Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Abandonment of Duty

This Court’s one-person, one-vote cases recognize that each person is entitled to an equal say in the election of representatives. It hardly follows from that principle that a person is entitled to have his political party achieve representation commensurate to its share of statewide support. Vote dilution in the one-person, one-vote cases refers to the idea that each vote must carry equal weight. That requirement does not extend to political parties; it does not mean that each party must be influential in proportion to the number of its supporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts

Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.

Justice Elena Kagan

This week’s featured posts are “What I Learned from the Debates” and “Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule“.

The Weekly Sift’s Facebook page just reached 1,000 likes. If you haven’t liked it yet, think about it.

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

The term ended this week, and as usual the Court saved the toughest cases for the end. I’ve already discussed the gerrymandering case in one of the featured posts. But there was also the census case. Here, Chief Justice Roberts sided with the four liberal judges to slap back the administration’s effort to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Whatever Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross might say, the purpose of a citizenship question has been obvious from the beginning: Intimidate non-citizens out of responding to the census, so that areas with lots of non-citizens will be undercounted. That will mean their states get fewer representatives in Congress and fewer electoral votes. In general, this will raise the (already substantial) structural advantage of rural whites, who tend to vote Republican.

Unfortunately, the fact that Ross and Trump are trying to undermine democracy is not a winning legal argument, because the law setting up the census is written so broadly that they could say openly “We’re trying to undermine democracy” and that would be fine.

What Ross did wrong, though, was to construct a fake reason for the citizenship question and stand by it in court. In general, this is not all that different from what the administration did in the Muslim ban case: Give a bogus explanation and count on the Court to defer to the judgment of the Executive Branch. The problem is, this explanation was so bogus that Chief Justice Roberts was embarrassed to rubber-stamp it. Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Stern summarize:

If there could be a one-sentence summary of his majority opinion in the term’s census case—in which the chief joined the court’s liberals to refuse to allow Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census—it would be this: “Go ahead and lie to me, but at least do it with gravitas.” Ross and his crew of Keystone Cops had attempted to add the citizenship question that would depress Hispanic response rates and boost white voting power in future redistricting, using pretextual reasons about which the secretary lied But his goals did not offend John Roberts’ politics; that much is clear from his opinion, which accepts the premise that Ross has the right to do what he did so long as he gives a better reason next time. They offended his sense of dignity and politesse with their sloppiness. Lie better next time. That’s the real holding of this case, and it tells you what you need to know about the chief.

One striking thing is that the four conservative justices all dissented from this opinion. As long as the Trump administration goes through the proper motions, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh really don’t care whether what they’re being told is true or even credible.

We’ll get a good chance to see those four blow with the partisan winds if and when any of the House Democrats’ subpoena cases reaches them. There, the Court really has no business delving into Congress’ reasons for wanting to see what it wants to see. But I’m sure they’ll find a way to forego deference to an equal branch of government when that branch is controlled by Democrats.

and the human rights atrocities on our border

The mistreatment of refugees on our southern border continued to get attention this week. The photo of a father and daughter drowned in the Rio Grande was hard to ignore and hard to explain away.

Congress managed to respond, passing a bill to fund the agencies dealing with the immigrants just before leaving for the Fourth of July recess. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill which progressives in the House didn’t like, because it included more money for enforcement as well as humanitarian aid. But House Democrats couldn’t stay together and ended up adopting the Senate bill.

The detention facility at Homestead had the misfortune to be close to the Democratic debates, making it an obvious camp to criticize. For its part, the private for-profit company running the camp put out a defensive press release. Among the “fictions” the company disputes is that “Homestead is a ‘prison-like’ facility.” That’s setting the bar high.

One of my favorite quotes is from Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” Same thing here: Even among the people who have sympathy for the migrants showing up from Central America, too few are asking what went wrong to make them refugees in the first place.

Let me recommend an article from 2016, before this became a Trump-centered issue: “How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration“. Some people ask why this is our problem to deal with. Well, there are reasons. In general, the US has favored the Honduran military over more democratic institutions, and has pushed free-market ideas that have served Honduras’ poor badly. Now, they have little power, little money, and no place to go but here.

The Onion published “Tips for Staying Civil While Debating Child Prisons“, including

  • Consider that we all have different perspectives stemming from things like age, ethnicity, or level of racism.
  • Make sure any protests are peaceful, silent, and completely out of sight of anyone who could actually affect government policy.
  • Avoid painting with a broad brush. Not everyone in favor of zero-tolerance immigration wants to see children in cages—it’s more likely that they just don’t care.

Meanwhile, conservatives exercised their own sense of humor. Kids in cages are so funny!

and the Democratic debates

The other featured post covers them.

and the G-20 meetings in Osaka

Trump spent most of his time chumming with the other members of the Autocrats Club: Putin, Xi, Erdogan, and Mohammed bin Salman, with a side trip to see Kim Jong Un.

Trump warned Putin not to interfere in his re-election, and they both laughed. They also yucked about fake news and getting rid of journalists, which Putin has often done by killing them.

The meeting with Xi restarted the trade talks that fell apart in May.

Mr. Trump promised to hold off on his threat to slap new 25 percent tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports, and he agreed to lift some restrictions on Huawei, the Chinese technology giant at the center of a dispute between the nations. In exchange, he said, China agreed to buy a “tremendous amount” of American food and agricultural products. “We will give them a list of things we want them to buy,” he said.

We’ll see if that amounts to anything or not. The Huawei issue is very disturbing, because the Chinese tech giant either is or isn’t a national security threat. If it isn’t, then imposing the restrictions in the first place was using national security a pretext to get trade concessions. If it is, then relaxing the restrictions to get trade talks restarted makes no sense. Either way, I am left with the impression that Trump just doesn’t take security seriously.

Early indications are that the stock market will have a big rally today because of optimism about US/China trade. I’m not qualified to give investment advice, but that doesn’t always stop me: If there’s some stock you’ve been thinking about selling, this might be a good moment.

Trump and Kim met in the DMZ between the two Koreas on Sunday. Photos were taken, but it’s not clear that anything was accomplished. It’s not clear that any of the three Trump/Kim meetings have accomplished anything.

Ivanka’s presence as a diplomat was its own side issue. My favorite Facebook comment: “Apparently Trump thought it was Bring Your Daughter to the G-20 Day.”

and you also might be interested in …

Dirty tricks have started. Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Ari Alexander’s questioning of Kamala Harris’ race.

“Kamala Harris is implying she is descended from American Black Slaves,” Mr. Alexander wrote during the second night of the Democratic debates. “She’s not. She comes from Jamaican Slave Owners. That’s fine. She’s not an American Black. Period.”

Mr. Trump shared the message, asking his more than three million followers, “Is this true? Wow.”

I’m sure this is a tactic you’ll see whenever a Democrat starts to break out of the pack: imply that there is something suspicious or inauthentic about her or him. The insinuation against Harris resembles the baseless claim (pushed by Trump personally) that Barack Obama wasn’t really an American.

Kamala Harris with her great-grandmother.

The facts: Harris’ father came from Jamaica and her mother from India. She grew up in Oakland, where I’m sure that whatever asterisk Alexander or Trump Jr. want to put on her blackness made no difference whatsoever. When Harris said “As the only black person on this stage …” she spoke the literal truth. (Cory Booker had debated the previous night.)

To their credit, Harris’ rival Democrats closed ranks around her. Cory Booker (who perhaps could benefit if his blackness were considered more authentic than Harris’), was having none of it.

. doesn’t have shit to prove.

And Amy Klobuchar tweeted:

These troll-fueled racist attacks on Senator are unacceptable. We are better than this (Russia is not) and stand united against this type of vile behavior.

Trump Jr. has deleted the tweet and his spokesman claims his intent was “misconstrued”. If you’ve ever been targeted with some kind of smear — whether based on your race, sex, class, appearance or some other possible sensitivity — you have undoubtedly run into this tactic before. “Oh, I didn’t mean that.” The onus is always on you to see the attacker’s pure intentions, never on him to see the obvious implications of his words and actions. But let’s be blunt: If Trump Jr. really didn’t know how his tweet would be construed, then he’s a moron.

The current dirty trick on Joe Biden is to imply that he has some mysterious health problem. This is similar to what Trump’s people did to Hillary Clinton. Nothing is too low for them.

and let’s close with something you probably didn’t know

TV Guide claims there’s been a TV show set in every state. Sure, we all knew about Northern Exposure in Alaska and Hawaii Five-O, but what’s the most popular TV show set in Nebraska?

Unimaginable Reality

A logical fallacy becomes inevitable: If this can’t happen, then the thing that is happening is not it. What we see in real life, or at least on television, can’t possibly be the same monstrous phenomenon that we have collectively decided is unimaginable. … Anything that happens here and now is normalized, not solely through the moral failure of contemporaries but simply by virtue of actually existing.

– Masha Gessen “The Unimaginable Reality of America’s Concentration Camps
The New Yorker, 6-21-2019

This week’s featured post is “Concentrating on the Border“. The back-and-forth about whether to call immigrant internment camps “concentration camps” shouldn’t distract us from what they are.

This week everybody was talking about Iran

By now we all know the pattern: Trump creates a crisis, does something to prevent the worst possible outcome, and then wants credit for what a great achievement that was. Two weeks ago it was Mexican tariffs. This week it was war with Iran.

By Trump’s own account, we were ten minutes away from an attack on Iran that was estimated to kill 150 people. Plans were in motion, but he called them off. The rest of his account sounds like typical Trump story-telling. (I’ll bet Trump’s military advisors told him immediately what the casualty estimates were; they didn’t wait for him to ask and then say “I’ll get back to you.”) But I believe the gist: An attack plan was set in motion and then cancelled.

Instead, we launched a cyberattack and imposed more sanctions.

The attack was supposed to be a reprisal for Iran shooting down a US drone aircraft. Iran claims the drone was in its airspace, which the US denies.

Nobody seems too sure what happens next.

Mike Pompeo went to Congress to make the unlikely case that Shia Iran is allied with Sunni al Qaeda. It’s a little like the global conspiracy of cats and dogs.

The ties between these two arch-enemies, Pompeo claimed, go back to just after 9/11. In other words, his claims are exactly what would be needed to invoke the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to attack Iran. Bogus ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein formed part of the justification for the Iraq War.

and Trump’s campaign launch

He’s officially running for re-election. The first Trump 2020 rally was in Orlando Tuesday.

Here’s the transcript with video, if you really want to know what he said. (If you look at any of it, be sure you also read CNN’s fact check, because much of what he isn’t true. The Wall, for example, is not “moving along rapidly”.) In general, it’s the same-old, same-old: Crooked Hillary, witch hunt, his amazing accomplishments.

“The American Dream is back, it’s bigger and better, and stronger than ever before.” I wonder how that sounds to the millions of Americans who didn’t notice their tax cut, are struggling to pay their student debt, and only have health insurance because (1) John McCain cast a last-minute vote to torpedo Trump’s repeal of ObamaCare, and (2) the courts still haven’t ruled on the Trump-supported lawsuit that would declare ObamaCare unconstitutional.

“Republicans do not believe in socialism, we believe in freedom, and so do you. We will defend Medicare and Social Security for our great seniors.” Consecutive sentences: We don’t believe in socialism; we’ll defend the socialist programs that already exist.

The violent neo-fascist group Proud Boys gathered outside the Orlando rally. Police had to block them from confronting anti-Trump demonstrators. Any other candidate would be expected to denounce such a group of supporters, or at least distance himself from them. But this is Trump, so many news outlets didn’t find their presence worth mentioning.

In 2016, Trump’s outrageousness and unpredictability led cable networks to carry his rallies live, giving him far more free media than any other candidate. CNN and MSNBC appear to be trying to change their ways: Neither televised the whole Orlando speech.

Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz found this lack of free media objectionable. Fox televised the whole Orlando speech.

I suppose it’s fitting for a candidate of no particular morals and zero Biblical knowledge to open his rally with a prayer from evangelist Paula White.

Let every evil veil of deception of the enemy be removed from people’s eyes. So right now, let every demonic network who has aligned itself against the purpose, against the calling of President Trump, let it be broken, let it be torn down in the name of Jesus! Let the council of the wicked be spoiled right now. … I declare that President Trump will overcome every strategy from hell and every strategy of the enemy – every strategy – and he will fulfill his calling and his destiny.

Of course, if some nutcase does the obvious thing — tries to break the anti-Trump “demonic network” by killing a bunch of “wicked” people “from hell” — White will be shocked that anyone might blame her.

and you also might be interested in …

Once upon a time, it would have been earth-shaking news if an advice columnist from a major magazine accused the President of the United States of assault verging on rape. Now it’s like: “Take a number, lady. I guess you’re #22.”

Trump denies the allegation, as he has denied all the others. Vox’ Laura McGann uses his denial as an example of how gaslighting works. To begin with, he says “I’ve never met this person in my life” despite the photo of them together. And if he keeps saying things like “people should pay dearly for such false accusations”, how long will it be before one of his violent supporters decides to make that happen?

For years now, Jon Stewart has had a cause: the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, which pays for care for the first responders whose illnesses stem from their work in the aftermath of the attack. The fund will expire next year, and Stewart has been lobbying Congress to get its funding extended.

Something this popular ought to just sail through Congress, but it never actually does, because politicians see it as the spoonful of sugar that will help the distasteful stuff go down: Why just pass this bill on its own, when you could attach lots of special-interest pork to it and still get it through?

Jon went on Stephen Colbert’s show to take his case to Mitch McConnell.

It’s good to see Turkey’s democracy still works well enough that Erdogan’s party can lose an election.

Wednesday, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about reparations for slavery.

I’m of two minds about this subject. On the one hand, enslaved Africans and their descendants built a large chunk of America’s wealth and wound up owning none of it. That long-ago injustice (plus Jim Crow plus ongoing racism) still has repercussions, and even those whites whose families never owned slaves have benefited in ways we don’t always appreciate. (In White Like Me, Tim Wise examines his own racial privilege: He inherited little money from past generations, but his family paid for his university education by mortgaging their house. They bought that house at a time when a black family would not have been allowed to bid on it. So a black Tim Wise wouldn’t have gotten that education.)

So the justice of paying some kind of reparations seems clear to me. But what gives me doubt is having seen a Smithsonian exhibit on the Japanese internment. After Pearl Harbor, most Japanese-Americans were imprisoned and held for the next four years or so. In 1988, reparations were declared: $20,000 per surviving detainee.

Picture it: You had a life. The government closed it down and moved you and your family to an internment camp for four years. Decades later, somebody hands you a check for $20,000. Does that cover it? Are we good now?

But in addition to the inadequacy of monetary settlement, there’s a bigger problem: For reparations to bring this chapter to a close, our society needs to reach some kind of consensus about what the payment is for and what it means. We’re nowhere close to that. If reparations for slavery were paid tomorrow, the white-nationalist types would believe blacks had used their political power to extort something, and they would want to get it back. A lot of other whites would feel like racism was a dead topic now: “Don’t ever talk to me about racism again. I paid my bill for that.” Meanwhile, blacks would say, “That was slavery. What about Jim Crow?”

I can’t argue with the justice of reparations. But I wonder if paying them would make our racial divisions worse.

Accused child-molester Roy Moore is going to make another run for the Senate in Alabama. Establishment Republicans howled in frustration, but it’s not clear they can beat him, or that Doug Jones can win the rematch.

Even more than Trump, Moore represents evangelical Christianity’s descent into tribalism. If you’re on their side, nothing you do is wrong and any testimony against you must be a lie.

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning David Fahrenthold takes a look at how Trump’s properties profit from his official visits, and from Republican fund-raisers. He has suggested holding the next G-7 meeting at a Trump property.

The Trump Organization claims, “It generates nothing. We charge domestic government entities our costs.” But:

  • That’s just their word; no disinterested entity is auditing their claim.
  • As Michael Cohen made clear in his testimony, “cost” is a very flexible notion in TrumpWorld. In particular, average cost is very different from marginal cost in the hotel business. If a hotel that wasn’t full fills up, those last few rooms cost virtually nothing to provide.
  • The claim ignores the penumbra of business that Trump’s visits generate. For example, if a Trump hotel holds a high-roller fund-raiser, some number of the donors will naturally stay at the hotel.
  • The value of the free advertising Trump’s visits give his properties is incalculable.

I’ve been struggling to understand why so many European government bonds ($12 trillion worth, at last count) are selling at a negative interest rate. (The bond theoretically pays interest, but the market price of the bond is more than the principal-plus-interest that the bond will pay out. Example: Suppose I issue a $1,000 bond that will pay 1% interest, with it all coming due next year. So at the end of the year the bond holder will get $1,010 from me. Now imagine that the market bids up the price of that bond so that it sells for $1,020.) Well, a WaPo business reporter asked a “Wall Street god” for an explanation, and he doesn’t have one either.

Basically, you pay $1,020 for the bond because you think somebody else will buy it from you for $1,025 before long. This is known as the Bigger Fool Theory: “I’m a fool to buy this, but I’ll make money by selling it to a bigger fool.”

Rosenberg attributes what’s happening to market forces and momentum, not rational analysis. Even though he and people like him are warning that buying negative-yield bonds is crazy (to use the technical term), prices of these bonds are getting higher and higher, making the yields more and more negative.

“Anyone who’s bought them is way ahead,” Rosenberg said. “People are buying into the bond bubble because they’re watching other people making money” on rising bond prices.

But bubbles always eventually pop, and $12 trillion is a lot of money. This may be how the next worldwide recession starts.

and let’s close with some perspective

I love these change-of-scale videos.

Novel Concepts

Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.

Ellen Weintraub, Chair of the Federal Elections Commission

If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.

Donald Trump

This week’s featured posts are: “Socialism: What’s in a word?” (In short: When candidates argue about socialism, what are they really talking about?) And “The Lawless Administration” (about the most recent examples of disregard for the law).

Readers of the Morning Tease will realize that the second post wasn’t planned. But the notes I intended for this summary grew beyond the usual length.

This week everybody was talking about lawlessness in the Trump administration

See the featured post.

and the Mexico deal

As I was writing last week’s Sift, the deal averting Mexican tariffs had just been announced, and people were arguing over whether Trump had actually accomplished anything or just saved face by repackaging concessions Mexico had already made.

Trump apparently took offense at this lack of credulousness, and started talking about a “secret deal” in which Mexico had agreed to much more than seemed apparent. He waved a piece of paper around, which was supposedly this unpublished agreement.

Well, Mexico has published it. And like the North Korean deal that Trump once suggested should get him a Nobel Prize, it doesn’t amount to much.

The text of the letter reveals a commitment to begin discussions for a future agreement — essentially making it an agreement to negotiate an agreement — and is, as many expected, not a “deal.” … According to the letter, Mexico has agreed that if after 45 days this deployment and any other measures it takes “have not sufficiently achieved results in addressing the flow of migrants to the southern border” in the eyes of the US, then Mexico will take “all necessary steps” to bring the still to be negotiated agreement into force within the next 45 days.

So basically in 90 days we’ll be back where we started.

and Iran

Thursday, two oil tankers — one Japanese and the other Norwegian — were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which lies just outside the Persian Gulf. The United States is blaming Iran for the attacks, but evidence to support that claim has been spotty, and appears to contradict some of what the tanker companies are reporting.

The larger story looks like this: Last May, the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration agreed to in 2015, despite our own intelligence services verifying that Iran was fulfilling its obligations. (The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in August that Iran was still in compliance.) Since then, the US has ratcheted up pressure on Iran in a number of ways, particularly trying to shut off its oil exports by threatening its trading partners with economic sanctions. Ever since, there has been speculation that Iran might respond by interfering with the exports of American allies like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which must pass through the Straits of Hormuz to get out of the Persian Gulf. The recent attacks could be that retaliation, or the attackers could be from other nations who want to see a war between the US and Iran, or even non-state actors trying to drive up the price of oil.

The even larger story is that Iran is a regional rival of two US allies: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iran supports Hezbollah against Israel, and the Houthi rebels who are fighting the Saudis in the Yemeni Civil War. It is allied with the Assad regime in Syria, and is in a political struggle with the US for influence in Iraq.

There are reasons for Americans to be skeptical of a rush to war. National Security Adviser John Bolton has been advocating an attack against Iran since the Bush administration. In living memory, two disastrous wars have begun on false pretenses: the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam, and false reports about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program in Iraq.

This is the kind of situation where an administration relies on its general credibility. Sadly, this administration has none. Trump says the tanker attack has “Iran written all over it”. But then, Trump says a lot of things that turn out not to be true.

Matt Yglesias sums up in a tweetstorm:

It’s likely the Trump administration is lying about the tanker just because, in general, they are always lying. But it’s not central to the *policy question* which is dominated by the reality that Trump is single-handedly responsible for the downward spiral in relations. Trump blew up a painstakingly negotiated international agreement that the Iranians weren’t violating & then set about trying to destroy their economy. The only reasonable course of action is for us to climb down from this. The Iranian leadership is bad but nobody can articulate why it’s important that the United States heavily involve itself on the side of the also-bad leadership of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a regional conflict that has nothing to do with us.

and Hong Kong

Ever since Hong Kong became part of China, Hong Kongers have been determined to maintain the special status they were promised. Recently, a law allowing extradition from Hong Kong to the mainland has caused hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions) of demonstrators to take to the streets.

Hong Kong’s China-appointed chief executive has backed down somewhat, suspending the proposed law indefinitely. But the demonstrators want it officially withdrawn from consideration, so protests continue.

and the first Democratic presidential debate

The field is set: Twenty candidates, split randomly into two groups of ten, appear on two nights. On Wednesday, June 26: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

On Thursday, June 27: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, author Marianne Williamson, and businessman Andrew Yang.

Unlike the Republicans in 2016, it isn’t going to be a major-candidates/minor-candidates split, but things sort of shook out that way: Five candidates consistently poll higher than 5%, and four of them — Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris — wound up in the Thursday group. The fifth — Warren — is in the Wednesday group. This is probably a disadvantage for Warren, because everybody who isn’t Joe Biden needs to be going up against Joe Biden.

There were two ways to qualify for these debates: major polls showing that you have measurable support, or a large number of donors in multiple states.

Candidates who didn’t make the cut include Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton (my rep), and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam. They should take the hint and get out of the race. The qualifying criteria were fair and not that arduous. Twenty candidates is already too many. I hope we get down to ten fairly soon.

This is just my opinion, but in general I don’t think running for president is an appropriate way to introduce yourself to the country. A major-party presidential nomination ought to be the culmination of a career in public service, during which you have championed a number of important causes. Long before you announce, people should have been saying, “I hope she (or he) runs for president someday.”

Just don’t ask me to square that view with the affection I’m developing for Mayor Pete. At the moment I’m leaning more towards Warren — it’s still early — but whenever I see Buttigieg on TV, I find myself rooting for him to do well.

A Quinippiac poll has several major Democratic candidates ahead of Trump nationally: Biden 53%-40%, Sanders 51%-42%, Harris 49%-41%, Warren 49%-42%, Buttigieg 47%-42%, Booker 47%-42%. (Notice that Trump’s support is almost the same in all those races; the difference is whether the non-Trump 58% have decided to support the Democrat yet or not. The poll provides little support for the idea that either Biden or Sanders is attracting significant numbers of Trump voters.)

538’s Perry Bacon cautions against taking these polls too seriously. Historically, polls this far out from the election have been unreliable. Interestingly, the much-maligned 2016-cycle polls were closer to the final vote than most.

The last presidential election featured one of the more accurate sets of early polls for this point in the cycle: Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump 46.2 percent to 41.2 percent in an average of all polls conducted in November and December 2015, missing the eventual national popular vote margin by about 3 points. (The actual result was Clinton 48.0 percent, Trump 46.0 percent.)

538 founder Nate Silver also chides Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager (Faiz Shakir) for pushing the theory that polls are underestimating Sanders’ support because they undersample young voters.

Younger voters are harder to reach, but pollsters attempt to compensate for that by upweighting the younger voters they do reach to match their projected composition of the electorate, as @fshakir surely knows. This adds error/uncertainty, and primary polling is generally a rough enterprise, but the polls are probably about as likely to be overestimating Sanders as underestimating him.

Elizabeth Warren seems to be the tortoise in this race. After being written off early, she’s been steadily gaining support. Some (but not all) polls now have her passing Sanders for second place. Trump appears to have noticed.

I have never figured out what segment of the population my social-media friends represent (they’re certainly not an unbiased sample of the electorate), but for what it’s worth they seem to be settling on Warren, who now also leads in the Daily Kos straw poll.

and you also might be interested in …

Sarah Sanders is leaving as White House press secretary. According to The Beaverton, she is “looking forward to spending more time lying to her family”.

Recently, Sanders has given up all the usual duties of a WHPS, like briefing the press. Why talk to the country, when you can just talk to those who live in the Fox News bubble?

AT&T promised to add 7,000 jobs if Trump’s tax bill passed. Instead they’ve cut 23,000. They’re not the only big corporation to pocket their tax windfall and do nothing for workers.

It’s early to be worried about getting a new budget in place by the start of the 2020 fiscal year on October 1, or the increase in the debt limit that has to happen soon afterward, but the signs are not good: “We’re negotiating with ourselves right now,” says Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby. The White House and congressional Republicans are still looking for a common position they can take into negotiations with Democrats.

Nicholas Kristof points out that everything proponents think they know about the death penalty is wrong: It doesn’t deter murderers; it’s more expensive than a life sentence; a lot of extraneous factors influence who gets the death penalty; and (in spite of all the apparent safeguards) we’re still executing innocent people.

but I went to an impeachment rally

Impeachment rallies happened all over the country Saturday, though it’s hard to find much media coverage of them. I went to the one on Boston Common. I found the crowd size hard to estimate, but I’ll guess there were 250-300 people.

Public pressure is the one thing that’s been missing from the impeachment discussion. (The British did a much better job protesting Trump than we’ve done lately.) What’s needed, I think, isn’t one big march, but a regular series of events, on the model of the Moral Mondays in Raleigh. Rather than try to get the word out for this march or that one (I didn’t hear about this rally until the day before, and could easily have missed it), it should become common knowledge that impeachment rallies are going to be held, say, on the first Saturday of every month.

I’ve discussed in the past the ways in which I think Nancy Pelosi’s strategy makes sense. But its weakness is that it leaves the public confused. If we rally for impeachment, are we rallying for or against the Democratic leadership? The rally I attended had no real headline speaker; I think that probably hurt both the press coverage and the attendance. That’s probably because big-name Democrats aren’t sure what Pelosi wants them to do.

Speaking of Moral Mondays, Rev. William Barber led a group of clergy on a Moral Witness Wednesday march in front of the White House this week. Prior to the march, he tweeted:

Jeremiah 22 tells us that when political leaders abuse their office & hurt the poor, we must show up in person to deliver a prophetic indictment. Now is the time.

Pete Buttigieg, who has made a point of speaking out as a liberal Christian, did not march, but was part of the crowd waiting for the marchers in Lafayette Square.

and let’s close with something mythic

Fenrir contemplates swallowing the Moon.

This picture is one of many interesting photos to be found on the Science Nature Facebook page.

With Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

This week’s featured post is “We need hope, not optimism“.

This week everybody was talking about tariffs on Mexico

The Mexican tariffs are over before they started. A deal with Mexico was announced Friday. Trumpists are declaring victory, while anti-Trumpists are saying that Mexico largely reiterated commitments it had already made. (This is similar to the new NAFTA agreement Trump negotiated. Just about everything that wasn’t in the old NAFTA were concessions Mexico and Canada had already agreed to during the TPP negotiations.)

CNBC comments:

Whatever Mexican officials may promise the Trump administration, it’s unclear they would have the capacity to deliver. “Mexico’s immigration and refugee agencies are severely understaffed, under-resourced and overwhelmed by the increased numbers of Central Americans heading north,” [Tony] Wayne [of the Atlantic Council] said.

One way to judge the agreement will be whether the number of migrants apprehended at the US/Mexico border goes down (on an year-over-year basis; we already know apprehensions will go down over the summer because they always do). My prediction: Trump will be unhappy when the apprehension numbers come out, and the tariff threats will be back.

The deal means that we will never know whether Republicans in Congress were serious about trying to block the tariffs.

There are two bits of collateral damage from these negotiations: First, Trump has asserted his right to impose tariffs on any country at any time. So trade deals with the US are basically meaningless; why exactly should any country negotiate one? Second, if indeed more Central American migrants are held in Mexico while their American asylum requests are processed, what will happen to them there? Mexico itself has many of the violence and corruption problems they are fleeing in their home countries. I hope the media will pay attention to the human cost the deal imposes on these already-oppressed people.

The same CNBC article pulls back to take a broader view of the Mexico and China trade disputes.

U.S. economic weapons are the most potent in the world, and 88% of world trade is still done in dollars, although the U.S. share of global GDP has shrunk from nearly half after World War II to 38% in 1969 to about 24% now. That remains the case because for many years a good part of the world viewed this arrangement positively.

It remains to be seen – in Mexico, China and beyond – how much Trump will gain through his unique willingness to use economic weapons.

What’s clear already is that friends and rivals are more interested than ever before in exploring alternatives to the U.S.-dominated system. Such a transition would take many years, involve enormous costs and unfold in stages. However, consistent overuse of U.S. economic power has made the unthinkable more plausible.

Also on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed the significance of climate change by saying:

Societies reorganize, we move to different places, we develop technology and innovation. I am convinced, I am convinced that we will do the things necessary as the climate changes.

Of course, if anyone tries to adjust to climate change by moving to the US, we’ll stop them.

and straight pride

Apparently a “straight pride” parade has been scheduled for August 31 in Boston. The announcement garnered widespread derision, which may have been the point.

I find it hard to believe this event will actually happen, or that the organizers even want it to. If it does, I predict it will be a fairly pathetic event, because there just isn’t much pent-up straight pride that has been unable to express itself until now. Growing up, I remember many sources of insecurity; but worrying that it might not be OK to be straight was not one of them.

Whether the parade happens or not, though, announcing it is a very effective trolling stunt, producing outraged quotes that can be cut-and-pasted into blog posts “proving” how much hatred and discrimination straights are expected to live with. You can already watch that happening here and here.

Here’s my view: In general, overclasses just don’t need special celebratory events. A White History Month is unnecessary, because the historical significance of white people is already being covered quite well. (Picture some tearful white boy desperately searching his textbooks for a hero who looks like him.) Ditto for a men’s studies program. No scripture needs to remind us to remember the rich, because who can forget them? A White Lives Matter movement is superfluous, because white lives already do matter. And so on.

and Trump’s European tour

He’s back from Europe without breaking any treaties or calling for regime change in Belgium; I guess I should be happy. He insulted the Mayor of London and the Duchess of Sussex, and told the UK who their next prime minister ought to be, and let’s not even talk about his ridiculous tux, but he didn’t do anything really outrageous like expose himself to the Queen, so the trip was more-or-less a success.

Does it seem like we’re lowering the bar for the President of the United States? I know it was a long time ago (or at least it seems that way), but didn’t we expect more out of Barack Obama?

Isn’t Photoshop wonderful? The picture on the right is fake, but I have to say it does capture something.

The ceremony to honor the sacrifices made by Allied soldiers at D-Day had to be pushed back 15 minutes while Trump gave an interview to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, in which he described House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “a disaster” and Bob Mueller as a “fool”. We used to say “politics stops at the water’s edge“, but that is another lost norm of American democracy.

We later found out that French President Macron was the actual cause of the delay, but Trump took credit for it:

Listen to those incredible people back there. These people are so amazing, and what they don’t realize is that I’m holding them up because of this interview, but that’s because it’s you. By the way, congratulations on your ratings. I’m very proud.

Ingraham then told her viewers to disregard what they had just heard the President say, because (you know) he says stuff.

Some of you may have heard or read that President Trump supposedly held up the entire D-Day ceremony in order to do this interview with me,. That is patently false — fake news.

and Biden’s Hyde-Amendment reversal

The Hyde amendment is a piece of legislative boilerplate that has been added to appropriation bills ever since Rep. Henry Hyde got it passed in 1976. It prevents federal funding, i.e. Medicaid, from paying for abortions.

At the time, the amendment was viewed as an abortion compromise: Abortion would stay legal, but people who opposed it would know that their tax dollars weren’t paying for it. In practice, though, it has meant that abortion is an option for wealthy and middle-class women, but not poor women. The result has been to keep women trapped in a cycle of poverty: early pregnancy results in early motherhood, which prevents a woman from finishing her education and starting a career that could launch her into the middle class.

Last week, Joe Biden stood virtually alone as a Democratic presidential candidate who still supported the Hyde Amendment. That position was part of his tolerant, don’t-poke-the-bear attitude toward Republicans in general: show some willingness to make reasonable compromises and trust that they’ll do the same.

The problem here is that anti-abortion forces are showing no signs of compromise. Instead, they’re pushing to make abortion completely illegal in places like Alabama and Missouri. If they’re going to send doctors to jail, what exactly are we getting in return for our tolerance and understanding?

Thursday night, Biden reversed himself. He’s now against the Hyde Amendment.

This is both good and bad for his candidacy. For many (me, for example) Hyde is a bridge too far: I care more about women trapped in a cycle of poverty than about the sensitive consciences of anti-abortion zealots. (If they want to reduce abortions, they can help us make contraception more easily available.) Biden has never been my top choice among Democratic candidates, but I hadn’t written him off until the Hyde flap. Now that he’s recanted that position, I’ve returned him to convince-me status.

On the downside, the inherent weakness of a moderate position is that it can seem opportunistic or even wishy-washy. It’s one thing to have middle-of-the-road beliefs, and something else to shift with the winds of public opinion. Biden’s change of heart makes it harder to argue that he comes from a place of deep principle.

Any time I criticize or express doubts about a leading Democrat, I feel obligated to remind everyone of this: Biden is infinitely better than Trump. If he gets the nomination, I’ll support him every way I can.

but we shouldn’t lose sight of the abuses on our border

Jonathan Katz at the LA Times urges us to call the border detention camps what they are: concentration camps. He recounts the series of recent incidents: deaths in custody, herding people into small spaces, not providing adequate medical care, isolation cells for people who are not dangerous, locking children in vans for more than 24 hours at a time, and an end to many educational and recreational services for minors at the camps.

He then comments:

Preventing mass outrage at a system like this takes work. Certainly it helps that the news media covers these horrors intermittently rather than as snowballing proof of a racist, lawless administration. But most of all, authorities prevail when the places where people are being tortured and left to die stay hidden, misleadingly named and far from prying eyes.

There’s a name for that kind of system. They’re called concentration camps. You might balk at my use of the term. That’s good — it’s something to be balked at.

He quotes Hannah Arendt:

The human masses sealed off in [the camps] are treated as if they no longer existed, as if what happened to them were no longer of interest to anybody, as if they were already dead.

Andrea Pitzer, who has written a history of concentration camps, posted a tweetstorm on Trump’s camps:

The longer a camp system stays open, the more predictable things will go wrong (contagious diseases, malnutrition, mental health issues). In addition, every significant camp system has also introduced new horrors of its own, that were unforeseen when that system was opened.

What’s especially ominous about Trump’s concentration camps is that the rhetoric of cruelty is already widely accepted among Trump’s supporters: These people shouldn’t have come here, so we can do whatever we want to them.

Of course this system is going to attract sadists and repel people of conscience. And of course the sadists will do as much as they’re allowed to in an environment where no one is paying attention.

and you also might be interested in …

UU World just published my review of three books about fascism: Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works, Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom, and Yascha Mounk’s The People Versus Democracy. I’ve already discussed Snyder’s book at more length on this blog, and the other two have been mentioned now and then.

Here’s how skewed things have gotten in Alabama: Not even rich people can speak their minds without reprisal any more if they support abortion rights. Hugh Culverhouse Jr. denounced the state’s recent decision to criminalize abortion, and called on students to boycott U of A until the state relented.

In reaction, the University’s law school sent back his $26.5 million and took his name off their building. Culverson responded with this:

There will be no winners in the wake of the decision Alabama has made to attack the constitutional rights of women. The state will become more divided and isolated, and it will be people such as the future students of the University of Alabama law school who will suffer the consequences. Whether my name is taken down is unimportant, but I hope university administrators will contemplate all the names that will never appear on their admissions rolls, as well.

The U of A business school will continue to be named for Culverhouse’s father, who also supported abortion rights.

[An update based on a comment below:, a news site I’ve considered reliable in the past, says that the dispute is more complicated, and that discussions about returning Culverhouse’s money were going on even before he made his comments about abortion.]

Esquire comments on a new report by OpenSecrets on Trump’s widespread conflicts of interest.

It increasingly appears the President of the United States has business holdings all over the world that are drowning in shady money. … The level of lying, corruption, conflicts of interest, and other malfeasance here is just gobsmacking.

And WaPo’s Plum Line column pulls together a series of incidents where people wanting favors found ways to put money in Trump’s pocket.

The White House blocked the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from submitting testimony to the House Intelligence Committee “on the grounds that its description of climate science did not mesh with the administration’s official stance”.

the Trump administration is debating how best to challenge the idea that the burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet and could pose serious risks unless the world makes deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

The Washington Post summarized what the White House found objectionable:

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s 12-page prepared testimony, reviewed by The Washington Post, includes a detailed description of how rising greenhouse gas emissions are raising global temperatures and acidifying the world’s oceans. It warns that these changes are contributing to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

“Climate-linked events are disruptive to humans and societies when they harm people directly or substantially weaken the social, political, economic, environmental, or infrastructure systems that support people,” the statement reads, noting that while some populations may benefit from climate change. “The balance of documented evidence to date suggests that net negative effects will overwhelm the positive benefits from climate change for most of the world, however.”

The senior director for emerging technologies at the National Security Council, Will Happer, is a long-time climate-change denier. He reportedly is advocating for a panel of climate-deniers to “conduct an ‘update’ of the National Climate Assessment” that will make it more friendly to the fossil-fuel industry.

The government just found a novel way to save $40 billion: reclassify high-level nuclear waste as low-level nuclear waste, so that it can be disposed of more easily. What could go wrong?

The waste is housed at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, the Idaho National Laboratory and Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state – the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.

The explanation sounds like it could possibly make sense:

The old definition of high-level waste was based on how the materials were produced, while the new definition will be based on their radioactive characteristics – the standard used in most countries, the energy department said.

The old definition said high-level radioactive waste resulted from a military production stream, [Undersecretary of Energy Paul] Dabbar said. That meant, for instance, that all the waste from plutonium production at Hanford was classified as high level.

It was a “one-size-fits-all approach that has led to decades of delay, cost billions of dollars, and left the waste trapped in DOE facilities in the states of South Carolina, Washington and Idaho without a permanent disposal solution”, the agency said.

But this is where we see the cost of this administration’s constant lying, and the appointment of a know-nothing like Rick Perry as Energy Secretary. (Obama’s first secretary of energy, remember, was a Nobel laureate. Dabbar is a little more qualified than Perry: He may have come to the government from investment banking, but before that he was an officer on a nuclear submarine, though his official bio doesn’t say what his responsibilities were.) There are times when the government really is playing it straight and needs the public to trust that it’s doing the right thing. But how can we?

I agree with Michael Gerson so seldom that I feel like I have to mention it when I do. In a recent WaPo column, he responded to Franklin Graham’s call for a Day of Prayer to support President Trump. Gerson first recalled that praying for a nation’s leaders is fairly common in the Christian tradition and ought to be uncontroversial. But Graham is asking God for a little more than is usually considered proper.

Graham made clear that the real purpose of the event was not to pray for the president, but to pray in his political favor. “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family and the presidency,” Graham said. “In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has.” The American Family Association described the day of prayer as a type of “spiritual warfare,” necessary because Trump’s many accomplishments “make him very unpopular with the Devil and the kingdom of darkness.”

Who are the “enemies” that Graham had in mind? Who represents “the kingdom of darkness”? The Democratic Party? Robert S. Mueller III and the “deep state”? Never-Trump Republicans?

However the conspiracy against the president is defined, I suppose I am part of it. Having been accused of serving the Prince of Darkness, I feel justified in making a frank response.

Gerson goes on to call Graham’s event “blasphemy” and “an abomination” and suggests that Graham has sold out Christ in favor of Trump.

For a minister of the gospel, making Christ secondary to anything is the dereliction of a sacred duty. Making the gospel secondary to the political fortunes of Donald Trump is betrayal compounded with farce.

Sean Hannity thinks it’s “despicable” that Nancy Pelosi wants to see a political opponent (Trump) in locked up. “That happens in Banana Republics,” he says.

I’m not sure what I find so morbidly fascinating about incels, the “involuntarily celibate” men who believe their looks unfairly doom them to lives without the hot chicks they otherwise deserve.

New York Magazine’s Alice Hines uncovers the world of incel plastic surgery, where strong jaw-lines and broad shoulders are created in order to turn incels into “Chads” — the incel name for the small percentage of men who get all the sex.

and let’s close with something award-winning

Saturday I was at a birthday party in Vermont when people started telling me about this neighbor they knew, Anais Mitchell, who kind of came from nowhere (other than down the road) and created a musical and would be up for a Tony award Sunday night.

I hardly ever make it into New York, so I don’t keep track of what’s on Broadway, and had never heard of Mitchell’s musical Hadestown, which was the big winner with 8 awards, including one for Mitchell’s score.

Here’s the audio of “Why We Build the Wall” from Hadestown, which was written before Trump became president.

Like a wall, the logic of the song builds verse by verse until it eventually encloses itself:
What do we have that they should want?
My children, my children
What do we have that they should want?
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none.
And our work is never done
My children, my children,
And the war is never won.
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall:
We build the wall to keep us free

Avoiding Weakness

Not executing John Bolton will be a sign of great weakness by the Americans.

Vee Terra, reacting to the news (which turned out not to be true)
that Kim Jong Un had executed his envoy to the U.S.

This week’s featured post is: “What makes Donald Trump so smart?

This week everybody was talking about Robert Mueller

Bob Mueller made his first public statement since submitting his report. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait observed the wildly different reactions on different sides of the partisan spectrum. If you either read the report yourself or got your news from the so-called liberal media, Mueller’s statement seemed like a non-event: He just repeated what he wrote in the report.

But those who live in the conservative news bubble were shocked.

What so vexed the right about Mueller’s curt affirmation of his previous conclusions? The answer, as we’ll see, seems to be that they believed their own propaganda about what Mueller had (and had not) found. Presented even briefly with reality, their minds have reeled in shock.

Mueller produced massive evidence that President Trump committed Nixonian-scale obstruction of justice in office. But Department of Justice policy prevented him from charging a sitting president with a crime, and Mueller reportedly believes he can’t openly state that this policy prevented him from accusing Trump of crimes. Mueller views his job as sending his evidence to Congress without prejudice, where the impeachment mechanism serves as a substitute for the jury trial that such crimes would normally call for.

Trump, William Barr, and the Republican Party followed a strategy of systematically lying about this.

Conservatives had heard a he-says/she-says that allowed them to continue believing whatever they wanted: Democrats say Mueller found evidence of crimes, but didn’t feel he could charge them; Trump says Mueller found “no collusion, no obstruction”. So they were stunned to be confronted by the idea that there is a fact of the matter — Mueller wrote a report that actually did say something.

and yet another trade war

Trump believes in tariffs so much that he’s going to keep trying them until they accomplish something. The new target is Mexico:

starting on June 10, 2019, the United States will impose a 5 percent Tariff on all goods imported from Mexico. If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed. If the crisis persists, however, the Tariffs will be raised to 10 percent on July 1, 2019. Similarly, if Mexico still has not taken action to dramatically reduce or eliminate the number of illegal aliens crossing its territory into the United States, Tariffs will be increased to 15 percent on August 1, 2019, to 20 percent on September 1, 2019, and to 25 percent on October 1, 2019. Tariffs will permanently remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.

Trump’s move is yet another usurpation of congressional power. Normally, Congress would set tariffs, but the President has the power to set them under a “national security” provision. The Eisenhower-era law was meant to apply to products of strategic military importance, with some assumption of good faith on the part of presidents. (If, say, foreign competition was about to bankrupt our last domestic producer of jet engines, the president could use tariffs to protect it.) But Trump is a bad-faith president, so he can claim that all Mexican trade has national security implications.

The president has told his advisers that he likes tariffs because they can take effect immediately and unilaterally.

In other words, he gets to act more like the dictator he wants to be.

Senator Grassley (R-Iowa and chair of the Senate Finance Committee):

Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent. Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country.

Mexico’s President Andrés López Obrador doesn’t seem inclined to respond to threats:

President Trump: You can’t solve social problems with taxes or coercive measures.

It is hard for me to imagine how any Mexican government could give in to this kind of bullying. (It’s also hard for me to imagine Trump deciding that Mexico had done enough and his imaginary border crisis — “the United States of America has been invaded” — was over now.) The main thing Trump has accomplished here is to doom ratification of the one big trade agreement he has managed to negotiate so far. And then there’s this:

If the tariffs damaged the Mexican economy, more of its citizens would try to cross the border to find work in the United States, experts said.

The point here is not to solve a problem; it’s to rile up Trump’s base.

Vox notes an interesting detail: Trump’s people say they’re going to “judge success here by the number of people crossing the border. And that number of people needs to start coming down immediately in a significant and substantial way.” But that’s bound to happen anyway, because undocumented border crossings always dip in the summer, when heat raises the danger.

Philip Levy, a senior fellow on the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, explains why this move undermines any kind of trade negotiations going forward, not just with Mexico, but with all nations.

A very straightforward interpretation is that trade deals with the U.S. buy you nothing. You may be asked to jump through hoops and do things that are painful, but in the end you have no guarantees that the president won’t stick on tariffs when something irritates him.

and another state trying to end abortion

This week’s threat to abortion rights was Missouri, where the attack came not from a new law, but from state regulators, who had refused to renew the license of the state’s last remaining abortion clinic. The license would have expired Friday, but a judge’s order will keep the clinic open until tomorrow, when he will consider an injunction that could keep the clinic open until a hearing can be held on the merits of the state’s complaints.

If the clinic closes, Missouri will become the first state since Roe v Wade to completely shut down access to a legal abortion.

This is the kind of abortion prohibition I can imagine the Supreme Court getting behind: Yes, Roe is still settled law, but who are we to overrule the judgment of the state health board, even if their complaints are obviously manufactured? Is it the state’s fault — or the Court’s — if no clinic can manage to fulfill the requirements to stay open?

and hiding the USS John McCain

As you’ve probably heard, the White House asked the Navy to keep the USS John McCain out of sight during Trump’s visit to Japan, presumably because the sight of a ship honoring his political enemy might anger the President.

I was inclined to ignore this story, but it’s turning into a case where the response is the real scandal. Rather than get bogged down in the administration’s excuses and lies, I think the right way to think about this is to ask: What would an honorable White House have done after this report surfaced?

I think that’s clear. First, the President would have found out what the facts were, rather than immediately tweet that it’s all fake news.

Second, somebody would take responsibility and apologize to the people who have been dishonored. Ideally, the President himself should have been on the phone to John McCain’s widow, and a video statement should have been sent to the crew of the McCain, assuring them that the Commander in Chief is not ashamed of them or their ship, but in fact respects their service.

Of course, none of that will happen, because no one in this administration — from the President on down to the hypothetical (and possibly fictional) 23-year-old staffer that Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney suggests may have made the request — has enough character to do the right thing. Instead we’ll just hear that no one is to blame and it’s no big deal.

and you also might be interested in …

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was reported to have executed the diplomat he blames for the failure of his February summit with President Trump. One Twitter wag opined: “Not executing John Bolton will be a sign of great weakness by the Americans.”

Update: As one of the commenters notes, the reportedly executed diplomat later turned up alive. So I guess John Bolton is safe.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell verified that his rhetoric during the Merrick Garland nomination was all bullshit. If a Supreme Court seat comes open in 2020, the Senate will see it filled. A lot of people expressed shock and outrage at this hypocrisy, but I’m not sure why. McConnell only has one principle: to maximize his party’s power. Surely we all knew that by now.

Another thing we all knew: The point of the Trump tax cut was to shift more money into the hands of the rich. A study by the Congressional Research Service shows that this is the main (and perhaps only) effect it had, and yet the people who supported it seem not to care.

From the beginning, it appeared that the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to next year’s census was an attempt to undercount Hispanics and shift congressional seats from immigrant-heavy blue states to whiter red states.

Now there’s a smoking gun: The idea goes back to gerrymandering advocate Thomas Hofeller, who

wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.

The new evidence comes from a hard drive found by Hofeller’s daughter after he died.

But will the obvious fraud being perpetrated matter to the Supreme Court, which will rule on the legality of the census question later this month? As they did in the Muslim Ban case, the Court’s conservative majority may decide that it’s not their role to examine the motives of the Executive Branch (until a Democrat is elected).

It’s going to be a busy month at the Supreme Court. CNN lists the major cases: census, partisan gerrymandering, racial gerrymandering, allowing religious displays on public land, and several others.

Trump has arrived in the UK, where he’ll meet the Queen prior to attending a D-Day anniversary celebration. Not everybody in the UK is happy about his visit. Massive protests are expected.

and let’s close with some things I learned during my recent travels

The federal government’s interpretative centers are gems. I’ve been to two recently: the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center in Great Falls and the National Historic Trails Interpretative Center in Casper. Some are under the National Park Service and others under the Bureau of Land Management. In the future, I will look for them wherever I travel.

Also, I had grossly underestimated the Dakotas, which I had always pictured as Kansas with more snow. But the Black Hills region in South Dakota is well worth your time, especially the unfortunately named Custer State Park. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is not as well known as Yellowstone or Yosemite, but is also well worth seeing. (A hike I had planned got derailed when a bison sat down on the trail.)

Fastest to Ruin

The rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with prosperity and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin.

– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

This week’s featured post is “Two Paths to Impeachment“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

In the featured post I discuss the Democrats’ internal debate on whether to start impeachment proceedings. On the Republican side, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash became the first Republican in Congress to call for Trump’s impeachment.

This move led a number of other Republicans to attack Amash, often dishonestly, as The Atlantic fact-checks. Until this moment, Amash has been a member in good standing of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which is demonstrating that all its previous rhetoric about the Constitution has been opportunistic blather.

Mitt Romney also claims to have read the Mueller Report and come to a different conclusion than Amash, that Trump did not obstruct justice. finds Romney’s statement to be “astonishing nonsense”, and outlines the analysis technique used in the report. She challenges trained lawyers like Romney to show their work.

People like Sen. Romney who come to a different conclusion should show the public their analysis, and explain which of the three elements [of the definition of obstruction] haven’t been met and why. It would also be helpful if they explained which particular parts of Mueller’s analysis clear Trump and why.

Otherwise, we really have no choice but to conclude that they are telling a politically expedient lie.

and the President’s temper tantrum

Wednesday, Trump walked out of a meeting with House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The White House meeting was supposed to flesh out details of the $2 trillion infrastructure program the three had tentatively agreed to in a previous meeting, but Trump wasn’t having it.

According to a Democratic aide, Trump walked in, didn’t shake anyone’s hand or sit in his seat. He said he wants to do infrastructure, trade agreement, farm bill and other things, but that Pelosi “said something terrible today” when she accused him of a cover-up.

He then went to the Rose Garden, where a podium had already been decked with a “No Collusion, No Obstruction” sign detailing the expenses (but not the results) of the Mueller investigation, and said:

I walked into the room, and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure, I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at it, that’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.

In other words, he’s back to holding the government hostage: Do what I want, or the roads and bridges get it. Numerous pundits, like NPR’s Ron Elving, noted how unusual this was. During impeachment hearings, Presidents Nixon and Clinton both emphasized that they would not be distracted from doing the people’s business.

His move was widely described as a “temper tantrum”, an accusation that Trump responded to in a typically Trumpian way: He once again described himself as a “stable genius“, and called on his staff to verify one-by-one how calm and rational he had been in the three-minute meeting he walked out of.

It was one of those creepy scenes that Trump stages periodically, like the cabinet meeting where all the department secretaries were obliged to praise Trump and tell everyone what a privilege it was to serve him, or the meeting with black religious leaders where each minister was given an opportunity to thank Trump for all he’s done. Far from persuasive testimony, it was a demonstration of the soul-eating power Trump wields over his staff. (If Obama had ever tried to pull such a stunt, his people would have laughed at him. And once they started laughing, Obama would have laughed at himself.)

It’s important to keep pointing out how strange all this is. People who are actually intelligent, actually sane, and actually innocent don’t act anything like the way Trump does.

It seems like the only sane reaction was to go over the top.

Comedian Stephen Colbert quipped: “All told [the meeting] was over in three minutes. According to Stormy Daniels, that’s two bonus minutes.” Paul Krugman invoked a famous scene from The Caine Mutiny: “it was very clever of Nancy Pelosi to steal Donald Trump’s strawberries, pushing him over the edge into self-evident lunacy.”

Even Trump’s podium sign became a meme.

Next the nation was treated to a smearing of Nancy Pelosi. A video was altered to make her appear impaired, and Trump retweeted it. As usual, he was not embarrassed to be caught doing something dishonest, but claimed only that he didn’t know the video was altered — as if a President of the United States bears no responsibility to verify the truth of what he says before he says it.

and Theresa May’s resignation

Having repeatedly failed to do the one thing she became prime minister to do — pass a plan that would fulfilll the Brexit referendum by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union — Theresa May resigned Friday morning. She will leave office on June 7, immediately after the ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Together with a small party representing Northern Ireland’s Protestants, the Conservative Party retains its majority in Parliament, so presumably May’s successor will be another Tory. (The Tories used to have a majority by themselves, but lost it in a 2017 election May had called.) But who that will be or what Brexit plan the new PM will propose remains up in the air. Boris Johnson, a Brexit hardliner, is considered the frontrunner.

I have frequently compared the Tories’ Brexit conundrum to US Republicans’ problems trying to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare, which they failed to do in the last Congress, despite controlling both houses and the presidency. In each case, the popularity of the slogan (“leave” or “repeal and replace”) hides the fact that no majority supports any particular plan.

Another analogy: It’s like being part of a family that unanimously wants to take a big vacation this year, but some of you want to ski in the Alps, some want a beach vacation in Bermuda, and the rest are holding out for an Alaska cruise. You all agree until it’s time to make a real plan.

The biggest problem of any Brexit plan is what to do with the Irish border. Like Trumpists in America, hardline Brexiters want the UK to control its own borders and keep out “undesirable” immigrants from poorer EU countries, as well as non-European refugees that other EU countries have let in. That would mean enforcing a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, where passports are checked and cargo rigorously examined.

Unfortunately, that would undo the Good Friday Agreement that ended “the Troubles“, an irregular civil war between Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics that frequently spilled into the rest of the UK until peace was worked out in 1998. Catholics are a minority in Northern Ireland, but a majority in the Irish island as a whole; many would like to unite with the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland’s Protestants, meanwhile, hate the idea of becoming a minority in a united Ireland. Prior to 1998, a fairly large number of Northern Irish on both sides were willing to kill or die over this issue.

The current soft border allows Northern Ireland’s Catholics (and their relatives in the Republic of Ireland) to come and go as they please. They may not be part of a united Ireland, but they all belong to the EU. Largely for this reason, Northern Ireland had a substantial (56%-44%) Remain majority in the Brexit vote. For Northern Ireland’s Protestant party (the Democratic Unionist Party) to cast the decisive votes in a hard-border Brexit plan might push things over the edge.

Scotland had an even larger Remain majority than Northern Ireland: (62%-38%). Scottish independence has been a simmering issue since the Acts of Union turned England and Scotland into Great Britain in 1707. Scotland voted 55%-45% to stay with the UK in a 2014 referendum, but that was before Scots understood that staying in the UK meant leaving the EU. A messy exit plan from the EU will raise that issue again, as the cartoon below illustrates.

It would indeed be ironic if Brexit ultimately takes the Great out of Great Britain.

and Julian Assange’s indictment

The WikiLeaks guy has been indicted for violating the Espionage Act, from when he made public a trove of documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. In many ways this is a tough case to wrap my mind around, because the old ways of thinking about such things were based on categories that don’t necessarily make sense any more, like whether or not Assange is a journalist.

The NYT’s Charlie Savage (who knows a few things about investigative journalism) quotes a source who sees a dangerous precedent:

For the purposes of press freedoms, what matters is not who counts as a journalist, but whether journalistic activities — whether performed by a “journalist” or anyone else — can be crimes in America. The Trump administration’s move could establish a precedent used to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism, said Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

“The charges rely almost entirely on conduct that investigative journalists engage in every day,” he said. “The indictment should be understood as a frontal attack on press freedom.”

Savage talked to “a Justice Department official who stayed behind to answer questions on the condition that he would not be named” who nonetheless wouldn’t answer the question of

how most of the basic actions the indictment deemed felonies by Mr. Assange differed in a legally meaningful way from ordinary national-security investigative journalism — encouraging sources to provide secret information of news value, obtaining it without the government’s permission and then publishing portions of it.

Here’s what makes this case difficult for me: When the First Amendment was written, “freedom of the press” was very literal. If you owned or otherwise got access to a press, you could print what you wanted, without seeking anyone’s prior approval. (Slander and libel rules applied after the fact, of course, and you might also be challenged to a duel if you defamed someone unfairly.) But in the 19th and 20th centuries, journalism became institutionalized and “journalist” became a profession with professional standards. In effect, journalists were a protected class under the First Amendment as it came to be construed.

With the advent of the internet, though, anyone can claim to be a journalist, so the rights of journalists and the rights of ordinary people have to come into some kind of convergence. An ordinary person who received hacked Top Secret documents and posted them to Facebook would probably be considered a spy. Charlie Savage — obtaining the same documents, applying principles of responsible journalism, and publishing only those parts where he judges that the public interest outweighs the harm — probably shouldn’t be. But the line is not so easy to draw now.

So for me the Assange case is more complicated than just picking a side. The question is how to reconstruct First Amendment protections for the current era.

and Bill Barr’s new powers

For years now, Trump has trying to delegitimize the Mueller investigation by concocting a conspiracy theory about how it started. Before Republicans lost their House majority in 2018, his main accomplice was House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes. Who can forget the Nunes Memo, which was supposed to be an Earth-shaking expose’, until it was finally declassified and proved to amount to nothing?

Jeff Sessions never wanted to get involved in this attempt to slander the Justice Department he led, not to mention the US intelligence community. But Bill Barr is the unscrupulous attorney general Trump always wanted. Two weeks ago Barr named Connecticut US Attorney John Durham to lead the investigation into those who dared to investigate the Great Leader.

Thursday, Trump gave Barr the authority to review and possibly declassify any documents related to the origin of Russia investigation. This has produced two widespread fears, which I share:

  • Given the deceptive way he has spun the Mueller Report in Trump’s favor, Barr may do the same thing with the classified record: He might cherry-pick documents to find ones that can be spun to support Trump’s conspiracy theory, while leaving classified any documents that provide refuting context.
  • Along the way, valuable intelligence sources (for example, sources close to Putin) might be compromised. Not only will this allow Putin to clean house — yet another dividend from his support of Trump — but it will discourage future sources in all countries from trusting US intelligence services.

Trump has already announced the conclusion he wants this investigation to reach: FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, FBI Director James Comey and Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, as well as “people probably higher than that”, have committed treason. People higher than the FBI director might be Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch, or maybe President Obama himself.

The charge, by the way, is ridiculous from the outset. Treason is defined in Article III, section 3 of the Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

It’s outrageous to think that investigating the President, or a candidate for president, equates to “levying war against the United States”. To date the only evidence for the conspiracy theory are the tweets Strzok and Page sent each other, in which it is clear they didn’t want Trump to become president (perhaps because they feared he had been compromised by Russia).

Well, more than 65 million Americans didn’t want Trump to become president. Are we all traitors? Will Bill Barr be unleashed on us also?

One possibility we can’t lose sight of is that Barr’s investigation is supposed to be ridiculous. The point probably isn’t to prove anything, but to delegitimize the whole idea of finding truth through investigations. This is the reverse-cargo-cult propaganda technique pioneered by the Soviets and carried forward by Putin.

but we should talk more about legislation the House is passing

One of the charges against House Democrats pushing impeachment is that they’re investigating instead of legislating. But the problem isn’t a lack of legislation, it’s that the news media isn’t covering the bills the House passes. The real graveyard of legislation is Mitch McConnell’s Senate, which has devolved into a judge-confirming machine that shows no real interest in governing.

Vox produced a list of the 49 bills the House has passed since the Democrats took over.

House Democrats have passed a wide range of bills since they came to power in January, ranging from a sweeping anti-corruption and pro-democracy reform known as HR 1, to bills to save net neutrality, establish background checks for guns, and put the United States back in the Paris Climate Accord.

They have also put a large emphasis on health care, a defining issue of the 2018 election after Trump and Senate Republicans attempted to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have focused on bills to lower prescription drug costs, protect preexisting conditions, and condemning the Trump administration’s legal battle to strike down the ACA in the courts.

Much of this agenda is sitting in the Senate.

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Another step towards autocracy happened Friday:

The Trump administration has declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East.

Presidents typically declare states of emergency in order to act quickly in situations that are moving too fast for legislation. Such actions go back at least as far as the Civil War, when President Lincoln defended the capital while Congress was in recess, and asked Congress for its after-the-fact approval later.

But Trump uses emergencies differently. He is not just getting ahead of a slow-moving Congress; he’s doing things that Congress has already disapproved. In the case of his border-wall emergency, he re-directed money to wall construction after Congress had already had the time to debate and turn down such an appropriation. This arms-sale “emergency” seems similar.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement. “There is no new ’emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there. This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.”

Congress has already passed a ban on support for the Saudi war in Yemen, with bipartisan support. Trump vetoed that bill, and the Senate failed to override.

Speaking of the border wall, a federal judge temporarily blocked the administration from constructing the wall using the money Trump “reprogrammed” from the Pentagon budget via an emergency declaration. The judge wrote:

According to Defendants [i.e., the Trump administration]: “If Congress had wanted to deny DOD this specific use of that [reprogramming] authority, that’s something it needed to actually do in an explicit way in the appropriations process. And it didn’t.” But it is not Congress’s burden to prohibit the Executive from spending the Nation’s funds: it is the Executive’s burden to show that its desired use of those funds was “affirmatively approved by Congress.”

… Congress’s “absolute” control over federal expenditures—even when that control may frustrate the desires of the Executive Branch regarding initiatives it views as important—is not a bug in our constitutional system. It is a feature of that system, and an essential one. … In short, the position that when Congress declines the Executive’s request to appropriate funds, the Executive nonetheless may simply find a way to spend those funds “without Congress” does not square with fundamental separation of powers principles dating back to the earliest days of our Republic.

The Washington Post summarizes another point:

The law the administration invoked to shift funds allows transfers for “unforeseen” events. [Judge] Gilliam said the government’s claim that wall construction was “unforeseen” “cannot logically be squared” with Trump’s many demands for funding dating back to early 2018 and even in the campaign.

The injunction applies to $1 billion that has been reprogrammed so far. This is only part of the DoD money Trump has announced he is transferring, but is the only money to be specifically identified.

A March study by the Federal Reserve (summarized by MarketWatch) finds that wealth is continuing to concentrate at the top. The top 1% of Americans now control 32% of the nation’s wealth, up from 23% in 1989.

Deutsche Bank economist Torsten Sløk largely blames the Fed itself.

“The response to the financial crisis was for the Fed to lower interest rates which in turn pushed home prices and stock prices steadily higher over the past decade,” Slok said. “And another consequence of the financial crisis was a decline in homeownership and stock ownership among households,” he said.

A number of people in my social-media universe flagged the USA Today opinion piece “Rural Americans would be Serfs if we abolished the Electoral College“, but none of them really put their finger on what’s wrong with it.

The obvious problem, of course, is that the essay is essentially a guy explaining why his vote should count for more than other people’s. But the problem goes deeper than that if we decode his arguments:

This is why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Instead of winning over small-town Americans, she amassed a popular vote lead based on California and a few big cities. She won those places with huge margins but lost just about everywhere else. And the system worked. The Electoral College requires more than just the most raw votes to win — it requires geographic balance. This helps to protect rural and small-town Americans.

“California” is code for Hispanic/Asian voters and “a few big cities” is code for black voters. “The system worked” because “rural and small-town Americans” (i.e. white voters) got their candidate elected, even though he lost by 2.8 million votes. It’s impossible to imagine the author taking a similarly sanguine view if the candidate supported by white voters had lost in spite of getting more votes. (“Geographical balance” apparently is still satisfied if you can’t carry cities.)

The headline itself reprises a historic bit of rhetoric. Throughout American history, it has been non-whites who have been the “serfs”. But there’s a long history of whites expropriating the moral capital of their victims, and warning about their impending “slavery”. When John Calhoun gave the famous speech “Slavery a Positive Good” in 1837, he clearly meant to defend only African slavery. He begins by denouncing compromise with the abolitionists of the North in these terms.

I do not belong to the school which holds that aggression is to be met by concession. Mine is the opposite creed, which teaches that encroachments must be met at the beginning, and that those who act on the opposite principle are prepared to become slaves.

So in the first paragraph of the very speech where he extols the virtues of African slavery, he warns that white Southerners will become slaves if they fail to defend this principle.

Ditto here: Rural American whites are not and have never been serfs, slaves, or anything similar. Abolishing the Electoral College would eliminate their disproportionate influence and reduce their votes to the same value as everyone else’s. Horrors!

This is yet another example of the phenomenon I noted in “The Distress of the Privileged“: When you are accustomed to privilege, being treated like everyone else feels like oppression.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is postponing the Obama administration’s plan to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman. But artist Dano Wall has a work-around: a way to stamp Tubman’s picture over Jackson’s.


and let’s close with a nightcap

Travis Rupp and Patrick McGovern are “beer archeologists“. From the recipes in ancient documents, the residues embedded in ancient vessels, and a variety of other clues, they attempt to reproduce what our ancestors were drinking.

One of the weirder beverages they have each independently reproduced is chicha, which was brewed in Peru before the Inca.

The recipe for the Peruvian corn-based beer, cobbled together from bits of pre-Incan archaeological evidence, called for chewed corn partially fermented in spit.

McGovern’s version was eventually brewed by Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware (one of the classiest brewers around). I’m intrigued, but would I drink it? Maybe instead I’ll order a Midas Touch, a drink from ancient Turkey combining “grape wine, barley beer and honey mead”, which might also have had grated cheese sprinkled on top.

Without Protest

Throughout that first year in Germany [1933-34], [American Ambassador William] Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest.

– Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts (2011)

This week’s featured post is “The Weakness of America First“.

If you’re wondering how I spent my week off, check out the talk I gave at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois: “You’re Not a Thing at All, or the Political Implications of Dunbar’s Number“. It’s not actually about the treatment of trans and gender-binary people, but is more of a broad meditation sparked by those concerns. It includes my typical range of cultural references, from a 1930s Disney cartoon to Tolstoy.

This week everybody was talking about Alabama’s abortion ban

Alabama passed a law making abortion illegal, in direct contradiction to Roe v Wade. The new law would force Alabama’s women — even minors — to carry their rapist’s child, making rape a viable male reproduction strategy. (They may catch you eventually, but your genes will propagate into the next generation.) That’s why I propose renaming this “The Rapist Reproduction Act of 2019”.

Missouri’s legislature also passed a law making abortion illegal after eight weeks. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Georgia have passed six-week bans. These laws are de facto bans on most abortions, since many women will not know they are pregnant at that point.

This Facebook meme suggests in Game-of-Thrones terms how women might handle this news.

OK, OK, I’ll explain it for non-GoT-fans: After seeing her father beheaded and being forced into solitary homelessness herself, but before getting enough training to become the warrior and assassin she eventually becomes, the young Arya Stark comforts herself as she goes to sleep each night by reciting the names of the people she’s going to kill someday.

The meme isn’t about killing per se, but about refusing to forget the wrongs done to you, even if you have no immediate way to strike back. No matter how long it takes, women are going to kill the careers of the politicians who are making war on them.

The apparent purpose of Alabama’s monstrous law is to make this very conservative Supreme Court reconsider the legal status of abortion.

It’s worth remembering how we come to have a Supreme Court majority that is far more conservative than the American people: The Republican Senate (elected mainly by small states, and representing a minority of voters)  denied President Obama (who won his elections by margins of 53%-46% and 51%-47%) his constitutional right to appoint a moderate justice (Merrick Garland) in his final year in office. Instead, the last two extremely conservative justices (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh) have been appointed by a minority-elected president (Trump lost the popular vote 46%-48%, but won in the Electoral College) and approved by that same minority-elected Senate.

Republicans sometimes justify the power of the Senate and the Electoral College by saying it protects against the tyranny of the majority. But in this case it enables a tyranny of the minority, which is far worse. If our system respected the will of voters, the Court would have a solid center-left majority, and Roe would be safe.

A number of constitutional remedies have been proposed to make the Senate more democratic, but here’s a simpler approach: Outlaw gerrymandering (to make the House better reflect the voters) and then move the special powers of the Senate (approving nominees and treaties) to the more representative House. That also would require a constitutional amendment, but one that I believe would be easier to pass than a reapportionment of the Senate.

Disempowering the Senate would resemble the path taken in the United Kingdom: They’ve never eliminated their unrepresentative House of Lords, they’ve just taken away most of its powers.

I’ll take this opportunity to repeat my opinion about abortion and the law: The motive to ban abortion comes from some very suspect and speculative theology. Conservative Christians believe (for reasons I don’t understand, because the Bible says nothing of the kind, see below) that from the moment of conception, a fetus has a soul, so killing it is murder.

I don’t think law should be based on theology, particularly theology that is only believed by a minority sect or faction. The Founders knew their English history, in which religion had been causing repression, rebellion, and civil war for the previous quarter century. They wanted no part of that, so they wrote a secular Constitution and separated church from state. I respect the wisdom of their reasoning in this matter.

What I just wrote says nothing about the morality of abortion, which each person, family, and church can decide for itself. I’m just saying that government should stay out of the issue, because government should take no position in theological arguments.

Back in 2012, I wrote about what legal abortion has meant in my life. It’s not just about women; any man who ties his life to a woman’s (by, say, marrying one) loses the ability to make reliable long-term plans if abortion isn’t an option.

As I’ve previously said on several occasions, I have no idea why so many Protestants think that an anti-abortion position is part of their religion. The Bible says nothing directly about when a soul enters the developing body of a fetus, and what it does say points against the idea that ensoulment happens at fertilization. (Genesis 2:7 gives a strong hint that the soul enters the body with the first breath, which is a common belief among Jews.)

It’s not like the writers of the Bible were unfamiliar with abortion. The kinds of surgical abortions we do now were unknown then, but every culture has had folklore (sometimes fairly accurate) about ways to cause a miscarriage. Women have been using that knowledge to terminate unwanted pregnancies since the beginning of time. If neither Jesus nor the Old Testament lawgivers saw fit to mention this practice, maybe Bible-based Christians shouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

I also think that many people who claim to believe fertilized ova have souls actually don’t believe that. In-vitro fertilization clinics kill several zygotes for every one they implant in a womb, yet that doesn’t seem to upset most of the anti-abortion crowd. The Alabama law, for example, does not mention IVF clinics. The only laws deemed worth passing are the ones that regulate women’s sexuality and ability to control the course of their lives.

If anti-abortion folks don’t believe their own rhetoric, then what does motivate them? Two things, I believe. Some are motivated by a horror of female promiscuity. (Without abortion, there is no completely effective birth control. So promiscuous women face the prospect of an unwanted child.) But simple tribalism explains more than we commonly think. When abortion bans are passed, conservative Christians see their side winning.

and war and trade war

The featured post discusses the common element in our trade war with China and our drift towards a shooting war with Iran: In each case, we’ve left our usual allies behind, and are unilaterally ratcheting up pressure on a rival country on the basis of self-interest, without any principled basis.

With regard to Iran and its “bad behavior“, think about how we’d react if Iran were behaving as badly as our ally Saudi Arabia: What if an Iranian expatriate took up residence in the US, wrote anti-Iran-government articles for the Washington Post, and then was lured into an Iranian embassy and murdered?

Hugh Hewitt cites “Iran’s complicity in the Syrian genocide as Tehran continues propping up Bashar al-Assad”. But he is strangely silent about Assad’s other big ally: Putin’s Russia.

but we need to think about extinction

The UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services put out a report warning that a million species are in danger of extinction in the coming decades.

The report … points to five main drivers of modern extinction. Those factors are, in diminishing order of magnitude, changes in land and sea use, hunting and fishing pressures, climate change, pollution, and invasive species.

and the threat to democracy

I was going to write a separate article about the various ways Trump is threatening American democracy, but CNN’s Julian Zelizer did it for me. All recent presidents have had conflicts with Congress and have tried to expand executive power, but what Trump is doing is substantively different.

For one thing, Trump isn’t just fighting one battle. Across the board, he is making unprecedented claims of power, and denying that the legislative and judicial branches of government have the power to check him or hold him accountable. The breadth of this push towards autocracy in some ways makes the problem harder to see than if Trump’s excesses were concentrated in one area: Rather than a smoking gun, much of the public just sees the fog of war.

Zelizer focuses on four issues:

  • delegitimizing Congressional oversight
  • using the bully pulpit for disinformation
  • normalizing his own conflicts of interest
  • using his national emergency power to seize Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.

I would add one more: claiming direct White House control over the Justice Department. For the first time since Nixon’s John Mitchell (who eventually went to jail), an attorney general is repeating partisan talking points, misrepresenting the results of an investigation, and targeting Justice Department officials who dared to investigate the president. It is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the AG and the president’s personal lawyers.

Rachel Maddow dramatized the “delegitimizing oversight” point Wednesday by going back to Trump’s campaign statement that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing any supporters. Rachel elaborated with this question: If Trump did shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue, how could he be held accountable for it, given the positions his lawyers and his attorney general have put forward? MaddowBlog’s Steve Benen sums up:

Between Attorney General Bill Barr, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and the president’s private attorneys, we’re supposed to believe that Donald Trump can’t be charged with a crime, can’t be investigated by Congress, and has the authority to end any investigation of which he disapproves.

The “can’t be investigated by Congress” part was new this week. In a court hearing about Trump’s lawsuit to block his accounting firm from responding to a Congressional subpoena, Trump lawyer William Consovoy argued that Congress has no “law enforcement” role under the Constitution, and so any investigation of Trump’s lawbreaking would be unconstitutional. The WaPo’s Dana Millbank pulls this exchange with Judge Amit Mehta out of the transcript:

If “a president was involved in some corrupt enterprise, you mean to tell me because he is the president of the United States, Congress would not have power to investigate?”

No, Consovoy said, because that’s “not pursuant to its legislative agenda.”

Mehta noted that this would have invalidated the Senate’s Watergate hearings.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made a similar argument in announcing that he would defy the law that gives House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal the right to view any tax return, including the president’s, on request. The law was passed after the Teapot Dome scandal, when Congress realized that the administration would have no motivation to investigate its own wrongdoing. So Neal is applying the law for precisely the purpose Congress intended, and Mnuchin is saying no.

The significance of the third point, normalizing conflicts of interest, doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. Conceivably, one way the China trade war could end is that a Chinese company with government ties rents a big space at Trump Tower (which is having trouble finding tenants) or some other Trump property, and pays an absurdly high rate on it. Given how secretive President 46% is about his finances, we might never know. And even if we did, the quid pro quo might be impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt. (According to Trump’s lawyers, it couldn’t even be investigated before he leaves office.)

In short, Trump’s continuing interest in his business empire leaves the door wide open to any kind of bribe, foreign or domestic. Already it is considered advisable for foreign diplomats to stay at Trump International Hotel. If you’re a businessman or lobbyist and you want access to the president himself, write him a check for $200,000 and join Mar-a-Lago. (Remember when it was supposed to be scandalous that people might hope to gain access by giving to Hillary’s Clinton’s charity? At least they weren’t putting money directly into her pocket.)

This is one way in which Trump’s America already resembles the stereotypical banana republic: If you want to do public business with the government, first do private business with El Presidente or his family.

This morning’s NYT reveals that transactions in Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s accounts with Deutsche Bank raised money-laundering concerns that bank officials chose not to report to the government.

When he became president, he owed Deutsche Bank well over $300 million. That made the German institution Mr. Trump’s biggest creditor — and put the bank in a bind.

Senior executives worried that if they took a tough stance with Mr. Trump’s accounts — for example, by demanding payment of a delinquent loan — they could provoke the president’s wrath. On the other hand, if they didn’t do anything, the bank could be perceived as cutting a lucrative break for Mr. Trump, whose administration wields regulatory and law enforcement power over the bank.

The point of presidents putting their assets into a blind trust (or converting them all to government bonds, as President Obama did) is precisely to avoid these kinds of situations, which are common in autocracies.

The administration is also trying to limit judicial power.

Vice President Pence on Wednesday announced that the administration will challenge the ability of federal district court judges to issue nationwide injunctions that halt policies advocated by President Trump.

Courts have repeatedly stopped the administration from doing unconstitutional or illegal things. The first version of its Muslim Ban, for example, was a clear attempt to discriminate on the basis of religion. (The Supreme Court ultimately validated the third version, which had been toned down in certain ways.) Its current efforts to deny asylum claims without a hearing are illegal.

Pence is now proposing that judges only have the power to “decide no more than the cases before them”. If, for example, some new administrative action would infringe on my right to vote or my freedom of speech, a judge might rule in favor of my lawsuit, but all other people affected by the action would have to file their own lawsuits. If a federal judge in Hawaii finds that an immigration ban is illegal, it could still be applied in Virginia.

In short, using the courts to stop Trump from doing illegal things would become much harder, and in some cases impractical.

To sum up: Power has a tipping point. Once a leader acquires a certain amount of power, no one else is strong enough to stand in the way of future power grabs. If Trump gets his way in his current disputes with Congress and the courts, that tipping point will have been passed.

Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, which was written before anyone could have imagined a Trump administration, is suddenly topical again. The current parallels with 1933-34 Germany are striking.

“But Trump is not Hitler,” you say, and I have to agree. However, in 1933 Hitler wasn’t Hitler yet either. He was a buffoon who said outrageous things and had followers who sometimes got out of control. All that was easily explained away as rhetoric and excess enthusiasm. (It’s easy to imagine Germans advising each other to take the new chancellor “seriously, but not literally“.) After all, there were still a lot of sensible people in government, and surely they would eventually nudge the leadership into a more moderate course.

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Do communities with a large number of undocumented immigrants have more crime? No.

Joe Biden’s lead in the polls has only increased since he became a candidate, indicating that there’s more going on here than just name recognition. I still think there’s a long way to go, but I also think the media has overstated Democratic voters’ swing to the left.

I’ll repeat a point I made two weeks ago: There’s a difference between vetting a candidate and doing Trump’s work for him. Raising Biden’s difficult issues — Anita Hill, voting to authorize the Iraq invasion, etc. — is perfectly legit. But the possibility that he might be the nominee against Trump is real. So I have no interest in smearing his character or encouraging progressives to sit out a Trump/Biden race because there’s “no difference” between them.

Compare the Obama/Biden record to Trump. That means comparing Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Merrick Garland to Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh; comparing the Iran nuclear deal to the current march towards war; and comparing the “big fucking deal” of ObamaCare to the push to repeal it or have it declared invalid by the courts. That looks like a big difference to me.

Maybe you remember Ralph Nader’s supporters claiming that there was no difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Now imagine where we might be on climate change if there’d been a Gore administration 18 years ago.

SNL puts its finger on Pete Buttigieg’s problem as a candidate:

I may only be 37 years old, but I do feel like I represent everyday Americans. I’m just a Harvard-educated, multilingual war veteran Rhodes scholar. I’m just like you.

When I was in the corporate world, I used to say that the biggest test of an executive’s character is whether he’s willing to hire somebody smarter than he is. (I used gender-biased language in those days.) I have doubts about whether the number of Americans who can pass that test constitute a majority.

and let’s close with something upbeat

Back in 2014, Finland had already recognized Russia’s attempt to disrupt its democracy and started taking steps to combat it. Finland also had one of the top-ranked educational system in the world, and it began shifting its national curriculum to focus on critical thinking skills.

Its efforts seem to be paying off. Finland has the most trusted news media in the world, its people rank first in media literacy, and in press freedom it is second to Norway.

“It’s not just a government problem, the whole society has been targeted. We are doing our part, but it’s everyone’s task to protect the Finnish democracy,” [chief communications specialist for the prime minister’s office Jussi] Toivanen said, before adding: “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”

… The initiative is just one layer of a multi-pronged, cross-sector approach the country is taking to prepare citizens of all ages for the complex digital landscape of today – and tomorrow.

One school has

recently partnered with Finnish fact-checking agency Faktabaari (FactBar) to develop a digital literacy “toolkit” for elementary to high school students learning about the EU elections. It was presented to the bloc’s expert group on media literacy and has been shared among member states.

The exercises include examining claims found in YouTube videos and social media posts, comparing media bias in an array of different “clickbait” articles, probing how misinformation preys on readers’ emotions, and even getting students to try their hand at writing fake news stories themselves.

CNN’s article reports success:

Finland’s strategy was on public display ahead of last month’s national elections, in an advertising campaign that ran under the slogan “Finland has the world’s best elections – think about why” and encouraged citizens to think about fake news.

Officials didn’t see any evidence of Russian interference in the vote, which Toivanen says may be a sign that trolls have stopped thinking of the Finnish electorate as a soft target.

The Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and foreign policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close by fixing a common mistake

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

Separation of Powers

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

Lindsey Graham,
House debate on the impeachment of Bill Clinton

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

This week everybody was talking about obstruction of Congress

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

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

and the census

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Charlottesville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veteran reporter Sam Donaldson says this isn’t normal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orrin Kerr comments:

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

and let’s close with a fantasy that came true

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

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

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

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


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

The Mueller Report

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

This week everybody was talking about the Mueller Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barr’s redactions also drew some humorous comment.

and this musical spoof from Jimmy Fallon:

I’m glad we got this settled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republican leaders fall into three basic groups:

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

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

and the Sri Lanka Easter bombings

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

and Notre Dame

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

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

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

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

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

Melisandre: The one we’ve got.

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

While we’re talking about redactions …

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something incongruous

Sesame Street invades HBO. First WestWorld,

and then Game of Thrones.