Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Moving On

Even if Durham approached the probe with earnest sincerity, the real reason he was appointed is that Donald Trump’s political con requires the promise of total vindication right around the corner. For a time, Durham provided that hope for Trump backers. But now, as Trump moves on to other ploys, the Durham probe has served its purpose, even though it has produced no major convictions or epiphanies.

– David Graham
The John Durham Probe Gave Trump What He Wanted

This week’s featured post is “How the Trump Grift Works“.

This week everybody was talking about something that doesn’t interest me

I have spent exactly zero time these last two weeks watching coverage related to the British royal family. I just don’t see what connects the royals to anything I find meaningful. If I’d been running a news network, I would have briefly announced developments on the days they happened: the Queen’s death, Charles’ coronation, her funeral — and then moved on to something that might actually matter.

and Ukraine

After a grinding Russian offensive in the summer made only minimal gains, Ukraine has been striking back surprisingly effectively. It has regained a comparatively large amount of territory in the Kharkiv area, and put Russian forces into a disorganized retreat.

Like the collapse of Russia’s Kyiv offensive in the spring, this new series of reverses is raising questions about the effectiveness of the Russian military in general. Putin is also beginning to face criticism from the political right, from Russians who believe in the goals of the war but are disappointed by how it’s going.

The main thing to worry about is that Putin will respond by escalating further, which is why Biden warned him not to use tactical nuclear weapons.

and the fall elections

It’s hard to imagine what Lindsey Graham is thinking as he introduces a national 15-week abortion ban. It’s obviously not going to pass in this Congress, and it’s also giving Democrats a wedge issue for the midterm elections: It unites Democrats and splits Republicans.

Nationally, the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe has motivated Democratic voters in special elections and in the Kansas referendum. The Republican response has amounted to “Calm down. The Dobbs decision is just federalism; it returns the abortion question to the states.”

But Graham’s bill points out the obvious: National abortion bans will be proposed in every Congress from now on, and Republicans will not be able to stand up to their base and vote them down. So if Americans elect Republican majorities in Congress and regain the presidency, abortion will eventually be banned.

Graham is pitching his bill as a “late-term” abortion ban, but 15 weeks is early in the second trimester, and has never previously been considered “late-term”.

Polls show that late-term abortion bans are more popular than general abortion bans. But I encourage Democrats to keep raising this question to women who have ever been pregnant: “At what point in your pregnancy did your judgment become inferior to the government’s?” Late-term abortions are nearly all complex situations where difficult decisions need to be made. I can’t imagine that any large percentage of those decisions will be made better by Congress than by the people actually involved.

One reason I didn’t panic when Democrats were doing so badly in the polls was that I expected Republicans to do what they’re doing: nominate extreme MAGA candidates who represent about a third of the electorate.

Latest example: Don Bolduc, who is the Republican Senate nominee in New Hampshire. Incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan won by a whisker in 2016, so she has been an obvious target for Republicans looking to flip the 50-50 Senate. Popular Governor Chris Sununu probably could have won that seat, but decided he didn’t want to be part of a Republican Senate caucus with no policy other than blocking whatever President Biden wants to do.

So the primary came down to Bolduc against a more mainstream Republican, Chuck Morse.

Bolduc holds a wide variety of extreme beliefs: He wants to eliminate both the FBI and the Department of Education, has backed former President Donald Trump’s lies about the election and called GOP Gov. Chris Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer.”

But Sununu has pledged to support Bolduc, because mainstream Republicans are content to watch the fascists take over their party. Bolduc, meanwhile, has had a sudden conversion on election denial: The day after his primary opponent conceded, he announced that he no longer believes Biden stole the 2020 election from Trump.

One of Bolduc’s most charming positions is that voters shouldn’t be able to pick their senators at all: He wants to repeal the 17th Amendment and return to the system where state legislatures picked senators.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. And it worked until the 17th Amendment.

Weirdly, Bolduc sees this as an anti-corruption measure, when the pre-amendment Senate was a big part of what made the Gilded Age notoriously corrupt, as memorialized in the famous political cartoon “Bosses of the Senate“. Bolduc clearly doesn’t know American history.

So anyway, New Hampshire: If you don’t vote for Hassan, you may never get to vote for a senator again.

Another example is the Massachusetts governor’s race. Massachusetts is one of the bluest states in the country, but it has a history of electing moderate Republican governors — like currently popular Governor Charlie Baker, as well as Mitt Romney and Bill Weld in the not-so-distant past.

So there’s every reason to believe the GOP could have put up a real fight this year. Instead, they nominated MAGA Republican Geoff Diehl. The lastest poll has him trailing Democrat Maura Healey by a ridiculous margin, 52%-26%.

Of course Republicans are doctoring videos to exaggerate the effects of John Fetterman’s stroke. How did I not see that coming?

and the secret documents Trump stole

I’ve been reluctant to talk about “Trump judges” in a way that implies they’re all MAGA cultists. First, because it’s too reminiscent of the way Trump himself has talked about “Obama judges“, as if the judiciary is necessarily partisan. If we start assuming that every judge is in the tank for the party that appointed him or her, it’s hard to see how democracy stands.

But also, a number of “Trump judges” have held the line against his most outrageous attacks against democracy, and even his Supreme Court appointees refused to overturn the election he lost.

However, it’s hard to explain Judge Aileen Cannon’s rulings in the Mar-a-Lago documents case without assuming some kind of bias or corruption. Her position makes no sense as law, and gives Trump a unique above-the-law status.

Most telling is the way that she takes seriously claims that Trump has made in public, but which his lawyers have not raised in court: that the clearly marked secret documents the FBI recovered may not actually be classified at all, and that this is something for her appointed special master to decide. (Based on what?)

In their court filings, Trump’s lawyers imply claims they do not actually state, referring to “purportedly classified” documents and observing that the government “wrongly assumes that if a document has a classification marking, it remains classified in perpetuity”.

Any real judge would have pressed them to make a factual claim: Did Trump declassify these documents or not? When? How? I believe Trump’s lawyers would have backed down because they know Trump’s public claims are lies, just as Trump’s lawyers often refused to claim fraud in his election lawsuits. Lawyers can be sanctioned for lying to the court, but not for vague implications that the judge lets stand.

Cannon, however, did not ask the obvious questions, and instead just observed that there is a “dispute” about the documents’ classification that the court needs to resolve somehow.

The Justice Department has appealed to the 11th Circuit, which also includes a lot of Trump-appointed judges. Hopefully, though, these are real judges who will insist on applying the law, even to the man who appointed them.

the Martha’s Vineyard stunt

You’ve probably already heard about Florida Governor DeSantis using state funds to fly Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. They arrived not knowing where they were (since DeSantis’ people had lied to them), and local officials were not told they were coming. In short, it was a political stunt designed to create maximal chaos. The Martha’s Vineyard community seem to have handled it well, and the Venezuelans are now housed at a military base on Cape Cod.

Similar stunts have been going on for a while, as when Texas Governor Abbott bused about 100 Hispanic immigrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence, again unannounced.

To some, this is reminiscent of the “reverse freedom rides” that Southern racists organized (again, tricking their victims) in the 1960s. Others wonder about the political reaction from Florida’s large Venezuelan population, after seeing how little regard DeSantis has for people escaping the Maduro government.

My reaction to this series of events is to ask: How does dropping migrants in a resort community with no warning make anything better? DeSantis and Abbott seem to share one dominant motive: spite.

The underlying problem is that both treaties and our own laws require the United States to allow people facing persecution in other countries to claim asylum here. (This is largely a response to the shameful way Jewish refugees were treated when they tried to escape the Holocaust.) Once refugees get here and turn themselves in [1], we are legally obligated to hear their claims. Currently, the asylum courts are overwhelmed, and it can take years to decide if someone’s claims of persecution are legitimate.

As it did in so many areas, and as Trump continues to do today, the Trump administration dealt with the asylum problem by ignoring the law. The Biden administration refuses to do that, and systemic reforms have been logjammed in Congress for many years.

It’s important that we get this figured out soon, because in the coming decades many millions of people will become climate refugees, as their homes are flooded out or their fields become deserts. What’s our plan for dealing with the ones who appear on our border? Let them all in? Shoot them?

[1] The Republican rhetoric about “securing the Southern border” is way off-base when we’re talking about asylum seekers. They are not avoiding or breaking our laws, they are seeking the protection of our laws. And of course no one worries about our Northern border, because we think of Canadians as White English-speaking people.

you also might be interested in …

Geoffrey Berman’s new book Holding the Line is a good read. Chapter-by-chapter, it’s a real-life crime series that covers art fraud, Jeffrey Epstein, street gangs, extortion, international banking fraud, and many other cases, underlining the wide variety of issues that arise in the Southern District of New York, where Berman was the US attorney for 2 years during the Trump administration.

Like any good TV crime series, the episodes have a long-term background plot playing out: How Trump and Bill Barr tried to use the Justice Department to protect Trump’s friends and attack his enemies. Berman’s refusal to play ball involved strategic resistance, as he was constantly forced to decide which concessions mattered and which didn’t. He eventually did get fired, but managed to avoid handing SDNY off to a Trump/Barr puppet.

One point that makes Berman’s book topical: When Trump talks about “weaponization of the justice system“, it’s projection. He spent four years trying to weaponize it.

A legal battle is playing out in Texas over Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s desire to persecute families of trans youth. In Abbott and Paxton’s view, parents who allow their children to receive puberty blockers or other gender-identity-affirming medical care (under a doctor’s supervision) should be investigated for child abuse. A state judge disagrees, but Paxton will appeal the ruling.

Whatever happened to the praying football coach? You know, the one that the Supreme Court eviscerated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause for? Has he been reinstated, as he demanded and the Court ordered?

Well, not exactly. His reinstatement papers have been sitting around since August 8, but “we haven’t gotten so much as a phone call” says a spokesperson for the school district.

Instead, ex-Coach Kennedy has been living large as a conservative celebrity.

Instead, as the Bremerton Knights were prepping for the season in August, Kennedy was up in Alaska, meeting with former Vice President Mike Pence and evangelist Franklin Graham. On the eve of the first game, which the Knights won, Kennedy was in Milwaukee being presented with an engraved .22-caliber rifle at an American Legion convention.

The weekend of the second game, which the Knights also won, Kennedy appeared with former President Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. He saw Trump get a religious award from a group called the American Cornerstone Institute.

Coming up this month, Kennedy’s scheduled to give a talk as part of a lectureship series at a Christian university in Arkansas.

No doubt we can soon expect a book tour and a movie. It sure looks like “the praying coach” is just another right-wing grifter.

The purge continues at CNN: Don Lemon has lost his prime time slot and has been moved to the morning.

The latest “woke” thing that upsets the Right: In the live-action remake of Disney’s animated “The Little Mermaid”, Ariel is played by a Black actress.

Let me provide some perspective: When I was growing up in the 1960s in the Midwestern White working class, I was still a little uncertain about imitating great athletes like Willie Mays or Bill Russell on the playground, because White boys weren’t supposed to identify with Black men. That all changed in my lifetime, and now there’s nothing the least bit strange about players of any race or age trying to shoot like Steph Curry.

Same thing here: If you worry that your daughter can’t really identify with a Black Ariel, it undoubtedly bothers you a lot more than it does her. And in the future, she will look back on this controversy as something weird about her childhood.

and let’s close with something well designed

The Betterdoggos web site picks out dozens of examples of cleverly designed public spaces, like these Bulgarian benches.

Threats to Democracy


History tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.

President Joe Biden

This week’s featured posts are “Fascist is a description, not an insult” and “The Battle for Voters’ Imaginations” (which is about framing the abortion debate).

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s crimes

The breaking news says a judge has granted Trump’s request for a special master. But a weekly blog can’t cover breaking news, so look for details elsewhere.

Maybe the weirdest thing about the whole Mar-a-Lago story is how the former president keeps goading the government into revealing details that are damaging to him. He could have kept the whole search secret if he’d wanted, but no. Then he leaked his copy of the search warrant, and demanded a copy of the affidavit DoJ had submitted to a judge to get the warrant. Every new document that came out blew up more of his defenses and pushed his supporters deeper into a corner.

Trump’s lawyers’ motion to appoint a special master to review the seized documents was full of misinformation that had to annoy DoJ, so it responded Tuesday with a 38-page filing telling the history of the government’s efforts to get back the documents Trump illegally took with him when he left the White House.

That’s how we know all this:

When the National Archives asking nicely failed to get all the documents returned, DoJ followed up with a subpoena for “[a]ny and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings [list of classification markings].”

Trump’s lawyers returned more documents, including many classified documents (that Trump no longer has the clearance to possess), and one of them signed off on this statement:

Based upon the information that has been provided to me, I am authorized to certify, on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump, the following: a. A diligent search was conducted of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Florida; b. This search was conducted after receipt of the subpoena, in order to locate any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena; c. Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification; and d. No copy, written notation, or reproduction of any kind was retained as to any responsive document.

This turned out to be a lie. When DoJ began to suspect it had been duped, it got a search warrant. And sure enough, the FBI found what it was looking for.

That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the “diligent search” that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter

The filing closes with the photo below. Even if you believe the bogus argument that Trump had waved his declassification wand over all these documents, they clearly bear classification markings and so are subject to the subpoena.

Tuesday’s filing blew up all the bizarre and contradictory defenses Trump and his defenders had been spreading since the search was first announced. All they have left is to threaten violence.

Reading the filing, it’s hard to see how Trump can escape being indicted. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t want this kind of case to be what Trump finally goes down for, since the attempt to overthrow democracy on January 6 was so much worse. However, what’s unique about this episode in Trump’s criminal history is how easy it is to understand.

In all his previous crimes, judgment calls provided wiggle room for people who didn’t want to believe Trump did anything wrong. Did Trump’s pressure on Ukrainian President Zelenskyy constitute extortion? Did his demand that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” enough votes for him to win cross the line into election tampering? Do we have enough quid-pro-quo evidence to call his pardons of potential witnesses Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort a conspiracy to obstruct justice? Is it clear that he knew he had lost the election and intended to subvert the will of the voters?

I think a reasonable juror who is shown all the evidence will say “yes” to all of those questions and convict Trump of the corresponding crimes. But there is at least an argument to be made.

In this case there isn’t: He took the classified documents. They didn’t belong to him. His lawyers signed a statement saying he had given them all back. A search proved that he hadn’t. He knew he hadn’t, because some of them were in his desk next to his passport.

He’s guilty.

Trump’s crowds are still chanting “Lock her up” when he lies about Hillary Clinton.

Steve Benen addresses the difference between Trump’s theft of classified documents and the Clinton email affair, which Republicans like John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham surely understand when they’re not trying to bullshit the public.

Clinton’s email protocols were, of course, the subject of a lengthy criminal probe. Federal investigators appeared eager to find evidence of wrongdoing: then-FBI Director James Comey privately marveled at the “visceral hatred” some senior FBI officials in New York had for the former secretary of state.

But federal law enforcement nevertheless didn’t charge the Democrat with any crimes because they couldn’t find evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Comey took the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing Clinton anyway, but he grudgingly conceded that the FBI, following an exhaustive investigation, couldn’t indict her.

Trump’s State Department similarly conceded — late on a Friday afternoon — that there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information from Clinton. The inspector general’s office in Trump’s Justice Department also concluded that the FBI had no reason to charge Clinton.

Trump’s scandal bears little resemblance to his former rival’s. Clinton didn’t take physical documents. She didn’t ignore pleas for cooperation. She didn’t store highly sensitive secrets at a private club that had an unfortunate habit of letting foreign spies walk around.

Bill Barr, of all people, makes this excellent point about the claim that Trump declassified all these documents:

If in fact he sort of stood over scores of boxes not really knowing what was in them, and said, “I hereby declassify everything in here,” that would be such an abuse that shows such recklessness that it’s almost worse than taking the documents.

Imagine declassifying secrets just for your own convenience, without even bothering to learn why they had been classified in the first place.

Several TV talking heads with intelligence backgrounds have pointed out the sources-and-methods issue that makes declassification decisions complicated: If you saw a top-secret document saying that Vladimir Putin had oatmeal for breakfast last Tuesday, you might think that was a silly fact to classify and want to declassify it. (Putin already knows, so who are we keeping this secret from?) But if Russian intelligence saw it, they might be able to find the spy who is close enough to Putin to report such facts. That would be very bad.

The most mysterious thing the FBI seized are “43 empty folders with CLASSIFIED banners“. Did those folders used to contain documents? Where might they be?

I don’t want to go too far out on a limb speculating about them, but I hope we find out eventually.

and semi-fascism

President Biden’s calling out of MAGA Republicans is covered in one of the featured posts. I point out that — unlike when AOC is called a “Marxist” without any reference to public ownership of the means of production — “fascist” isn’t just an insult. The term means something, and that meaning applies to Trump and his personality cult. Calling Trump a fascist is more like calling AOC a New Yorker.

That post starts with the hypocrisy of Trumpists being offended by rhetoric that is much tamer than what their side routinely dishes out. But there is one additional point I didn’t mention: Taking offense when you are the greater offender is a telltale sign of assholery, as defined in Aaron James’ book Assholes: a theory.

James’s asshole has a sense of ironclad entitlement. He’s superior, immune to your complaints, though he insists you listen to his.

and Jackson’s water problem

According to Vox:

The water system in Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s capital and largest city, failed earlier this week.

On Tuesday, most of the city’s 150,000 residents were without running water, prompting the state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, to declare a state of emergency. He warned that there wasn’t enough water “to fight fires, to reliably flush toilets, and to meet other critical needs.” As of Wednesday afternoon, there was still little-to-no water pressure for most of the city’s residents.

The crisis has causes at multiple time scales. The immediate problem is twofold: excessive rain washed more contaminants into the system than the city’s water-treatment plant could handle. Also, several major pumps went out at the same time.

But this isn’t a unique crisis; the city often has problems after major weather events. Consider this Mississippi Today article from March, 2021:

[F]or the better part of the last month, Avalon and her husband Billy heaved buckets of water they retrieved from government tankers, kind neighbors or rainfall into their home to flush their toilet or wash dishes. 

Most Jacksonians lost running water altogether after back-to-back winter storms the week of Feb. 14 stunned unprepared utilities across the Deep South, and the Avalons were some of the roughly 43,000 people whose taps remained dry for more than two weeks. City officials were still telling most residents, 82% of whom are Black, to boil their water a month later.

So the medium-term problem is that Jackson’s water infrastructure is crumbling.

“This is a set of accumulated problems based on deferred maintenance that’s not taken place over decades,” [Mayor Chokwe Antar] Lumumba said. Lumumba estimated it would cost at least $1 billion to fix the water distribution system and billions more to resolve the issue altogether.

But where would that money come from? That question points to the long-term problem. Jackson delayed integrating its schools as long as it could, and when it did many prosperous Whites left. The city is now 83% Black and 25% below the poverty line; the median household income is $52K. So Jackson doesn’t have the tax base to generate billions for infrastructure.

It’s also a Democratic city in a Republican state, so state government isn’t coming to the rescue. Biden’s federal infrastructure bill is expected to deliver $75 million to Jackson for water projects — real money for most medium-sized cities, but not on the scale of Jackson’s needs.

And then there’s the deep-background problem: racism. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t just call attention to police shootings of Black people. It points to White Americans’ reluctance to take Black suffering to heart.

Take me, for example. I didn’t grow up in a KKK-style household, and I wasn’t taught to actively hate any racial group. But all the same, I grew up believing that Black people’s problems were not my problems. If they were suffering, that was a shame. But why should I do anything about it?

That ingrained attitude has been hard to shake. To this day, my eyes will glide past headlines about suffering Black people, and I have to make myself go back and read the stories. I suspect a lot of White Americans have a similar hole in their compassion.

So as a thought experiment, imagine that some whiter state capital — Salem, Oregon, say (which is about the same size, but more prosperous) or Des Moines, Iowa (somewhat larger) — were having similar problems. Would the American public have a similarly detached emotional response? Or would we feel in our bones that this was an emergency that required both immediate action and a complete long-term solution, whatever the cost?

and CNN

At some point in their careers, just about everybody in the news business has to decide whether they’re primarily in news or primarily in business.

Back in February, CNN got a new boss, Chris Licht. The buzz at the time was that Licht would emphasize hard news and “dial down the prime-time partisanship”. Reportedly, the head of Warner Brothers Discovery — CNN’s new corporate parent after a spin-off from AT&T — wanted to “move CNN back to the middle”, and away from the “partisan and combative” tone it developed during the Trump administration.

In some ways that sounds good, but there’s a lot of room for skepticism: How exactly should a “hard news” organization have covered the Trump administration, which was flat-out lying most of the time? How do you accurately report “The President is lying” in a nonpartisan way, or insist that liars take follow-up questions without being “combative”? How do you respond when Trump targets factual CNN reports as “fake news” and labels the news media in general “the enemy of the people“? When administration spokespeople claim the right to assert “alternative facts” that aren’t facts at all, what do you do?

You can try to walk a middle road between Left and Right. But how can a news organization walk a middle road between True and False? It doesn’t serve your viewers if your coverage amounts to “Biden says it’s sunny, Trump says it’s raining, and we’ll have to leave it there.”

So it was a bit ominous in June when Axios reported:

To conservative critics, some on-air personalities, like Jim Acosta and Brian Stelter, have become the face of the network’s liberal shift.

Is it up to “conservative critics” to decide when CNN has successfully found the center? Trump himself isn’t even happy with Fox News, because it occasionally shows independence. He’ll be happy with CNN when it becomes his propaganda agency, and not a moment before.

By August, Brian Stelter was gone and his “Reliable Sources” show was canceled. And now White House correspondent John Harwood is gone too. He leaves saying he “look[s] forward to figuring out what’s next”, which I interpret to mean that this move may be part of somebody’s plan, but not his.

If this really is about a shift to hard news, i.e., more correspondents on the ground in places like Ukraine and fewer talking heads in the studio, that could be good. But if the point is to compete for the Fox audience by telling them what they want to hear, whether it’s true or not (which is what Fox does), then that is bad news indeed.

but I’d like to tell you about a book

Possibly the greatest American you’ve never heard of is John Harlan.

In the rise of Jim Crow, two shameful Supreme Court decisions stand out. In the Civil Rights Cases (1883), the Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional and gave its official blessing to segregation in the private sector. In Plessy v Ferguson (1896) the Court endorsed legally enforced “separate but equal” policies, and chose to ignore whether the separate facilities provided for Black people would ever truly be equal.

Both decisions would have been unanimous but for one justice: John Harlan. His ringing dissent in Plessy provided the legal roadmap Thurgood Marshall followed when he argued Brown v Board of Education more than half a century later.

Harlan also dissented in other pivotal Gilded Age decisions that are now viewed as mistakes — cases concerning states’ ability to limit working hours or impose a minimum wage, the legality of an income tax, enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act, lynching, whether the United States’ colonial subjects are protected by the Constitution, and many others. Again and again, he was ahead of his time, and lit a path for a later generation of lawyers to follow.

The recent book The Great Dissenter by Peter Canellos is a dual biography of Harlan and another man whose very existence was a major influence on Harlan’s views: Robert Harlan, an enslaved woman’s child who was recognized within the family as John’s older half-brother. Robert overcame racial discrimination to become a successful businessman, a canny investor in other Black businesses, an adventurer, a world traveler, and an influential political leader in Cincinnati’s Black community.

Lifelong admiration of Robert seems to have immunized John against his era’s popular myths of Black inferiority. In reviewing Plessy, John must have wondered why the law needed to protect anyone against sharing a train car with Robert Harlan.

and you also might be interested in …

Mikhail Gorbachev died. He represented the generation that grew up with no memory of the Czar, and never really knew the idealistic side of Communism. The Soviet Union was what it was, and didn’t represent a step on the path to perfect socialism.

He tried to save the corrupt monstrosity the Soviet state had become, and ended up killing it faster. His legacy was an opportunity for Russia to achieve democratic freedom, which it didn’t do. He’s going to give generations of historians a complicated riddle to solve.

A county librarian in Idaho resigned rather than put up with “the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community”.

The threats against her have been veiled, but their message is clear, she said. During comments in public meetings, she has been warned with fire-and-brimstone language of her imminent damnation, coming from certain Christian fundamentalists groups who are known to believe they have a call to violence, she said.

The Idaho Statesman article drew six comments, most of them attacking the librarian.

That Texas law requiring all schools to have “In God We Trust” posters is just as sectarian as we all thought. A group that wants church and state to remain separate offered the local school board two alternatives that meet the conditions of the law: rainbow-colored “In God We Trust” posters, and the motto translated into Arabic. The donations were turned down.

When asked to identify “women’s issues”, Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker pointed to inflation, because “they’ve got to buy groceries“. So don’t look for Herschel at the supermarket, because that’s women’s work.

Ukraine has started a counter-attack aimed at the southern city of Kherson.

Author Barbara Ehrenreich died Thursday. I didn’t really understand poverty traps until I read her 2001 classic Nickel and Dimed about trying to survive on minimum wage. Sometimes living cheaply requires an up-front investment (like a security deposit on an apartment) that poor people can’t cover.

and let’s close with something timely

Today isn’t just Labor Day, it’s Labor Day falling on 9-5. So we have hear from Dolly Parton.

Power and Obligation

What is the responsibility of those with power? Do they merely have an obligation to refrain from the misuse of that power? Or do they have a duty to protect those without it?

– Jennifer Walters, opening lines of She Hulk: Attorney at Law

This week’s featured post is “The Return of the Bitter Politics of Envy“.

This week everybody was still talking about the Mar-a-Lago search

In fact, we’ve been talking too much about it. You can waste a lot of time on this kind of story. Some new detail emerges almost every day, but there’s still a lot we don’t know, creating room for endless speculation about what will or ought to happen.

I recommend viewing from a distance: Trump continues to claim that he’s the victim of political persecution by the “Deep State” [see definition below]. But with every new revelation, it becomes clearer that the Feds had good reason to search Mar-a-Lago and did everything by the book. Here’s the gist:

  • When he left office, Trump kept dozens of boxes of documents that by law now belong to the US government and should be overseen by the National Archives.
  • Many of those documents are classified at the highest levels. We don’t (and shouldn’t) know precisely what’s in them, but their classification markings indicate that some of them (if they got into the wrong hands) would compromise human intelligence sources and/or the US government’s capabilities for intercepting signals.
  • Intelligence officials are now studying the recovered documents to assess the specific risks associated with them.
  • Mar-a-Lago is not a secure facility approved for housing such highly classified documents. (And that may understate its lack of security.)
  • The government tried to avoid a confrontation, which is why the documents weren’t seized more than a year ago. The Archives asked nicely, the Department of Justice served a subpoena, and still they didn’t get everything back. Going in and taking the documents was a last resort that Trump’s intransigence made necessary.
  • Trump has not explained why he needed or wanted these documents.
  • Laws were clearly broken. DoJ now has to decide whether to bring charges or to be satisfied to have the documents back.
  • Trump allies like Lindsey Graham are threatening violence if Trump is charged for his crimes.

There are also a few things about Trump’s defenses that you might notice from a distance without obsessing. Ask yourself:

To me, those all look like strategies for guilty people. They’re not about establishing innocence, they’re about making it hard for the government to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

You may now return to your ordinary news consumption. Don’t let Trump suck all the oxygen out of the room.

Another development this week: The memo that then-Attorney-General William Barr used to justify not charging then-President Trump with obstructing the Mueller probe has been released over the objections of the Garland Justice Department.

The memo is basically a whitewash to justify what Barr had decided to do anyway. One part of it is particularly bad, as former Mueller assistant Andrew Weissmann observes:

Key “reasoning” of Barr/Engel/O’Callaghan memo: if you successfully obstruct an investigation, you cannot be charged with obstruction as you were not charged with the crime under investigation. Future defendants will have a field day with this memo unless DOJ repudiates it soon.

When Senator Graham threatened violence, he compared Trump’s crimes to “the Clinton debacle”, i.e. the Hillary email thing, which was very thoroughly investigated and was not anything like what Trump has done.

I did all the background reading on Hillary’s emails about a month before James Comey explained his reasons for not charging Clinton, which was exactly the same conclusion I had come to. Other people who do more-or-less what Clinton did never get charged. People who do what Trump did always get charged.

If you want a laugh, check out Mrs. F talking to Trump as if he were a toddler.

Do you understand why they took those items from you? … No, not for no reason, friend. Those did not belong to you. You took them home and you were not supposed to, so they took them back. The FBI. Yeah. We need to start taking some responsibility for our actions.

[Deep State]: As I’ve said before, the “Deep State” is an ominous way of pointing to people who aren’t that hard to understand: They joined some government agency because they were committed to its institutional mission, and they continue to be more loyal to that mission than they are to the chain of command leading up to the White House.

So deep-staters at the EPA kept trying to protect the environment even when the Trump administration wanted to let corporations trash it. Deep-staters at CDC tried to fight Covid when Trump wanted to happy-talk it away. Deep-staters in the military pushed to stay in Afghanistan despite both Trump and Biden wanting to get out. Deep-staters in DoJ want to investigate crimes, and so on.

and Biden canceling some student debt

I cover this, and the Republican attempt to turn it into a culture-war issue, in the featured post.

and the pandemic

Reported cases are trending downward, for what that’s worth. But lagging indicators are lagging the way they should if something did indeed turn around a few weeks ago. Cases are down 14% in two weeks, hospitalizations down 10%, and ICU admissions down 7%. Deaths, the longest-lagging indicator, have barely budged, down 2%.

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The uncrewed Artemis I mission was supposed to launch this morning, but got delayed. It is the first step towards new missions sending astronauts to the Moon, where no man has boldly gone in nearly half a century.

In 1960s science fiction, it was considered plausible to set missions to Mars and perhaps even Jupiter in the 1980s. By the 21st century, you could go almost anywhere in the solar system.

The Ukraine War has passed its six-month mark, leading to assessments of where things stand. Short version: Russia has lost in a lot of ways. Its initial plan to overwhelm Kiev failed, its military has badly underperformed expectations, and it has suffered enormous losses of both soldiers and equipment.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Ukraine is winning, in that there’s no quick or obvious way for Ukraine to achieve its goals either. Russian forces continue to occupy territory in eastern Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military may not have what it takes to force them out.

One provision of the Inflation Reduction Act was to fund more employees at the IRS. This makes tons of sense, because IRS budgets have been trending downward for years, and every year there’s a huge backlog of unprocessed returns. In 2020 the Congressional Budget Office reported:

The IRS’s appropriations have fallen by 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2010, resulting in the elimination of 22 percent of its staff. The amount of funding and staff allocated to enforcement activities has declined by about 30 percent since 2010.

One result is that rich people with clever accountants can gamble on outlasting the IRS; they can cheat in ways that IRS can only catch if they’re willing to invest a lot of person-hours they don’t have.

But the prospect of a larger IRS staff has turned into a major bugaboo on the Right. In the right-wing imagination, the employees the agency hopes to hire over ten years are all going to be there tomorrow, and they’re all going to be armed agents, rather than, say, people who answer questions on the phone or keep the computers running. Seriously, folks on the Right are scaring each other with visions of an IRS army breaking down their doors.

Dana Milbank sets the record straight. Bookmark this in case some social-media friend starts ranting about “87,000 armed IRS agents”.

Last week I forgot to mention the knife attack on author Salman Rushdie in upstate New York. Reports say he was on a ventilator for a time, but is now “articulate“, though still in a hospital.

Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society leader who essentially picked Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees, heads a new conservative group that just got a $1.6 billion donation from one guy. The group is the Marble Freedom Trust and the guy appears to be Barre Seid, an electronics-industry billionaire I had never heard of. (Several news organizations followed a paper trail to figure out who he is, but the law didn’t require any official announcement.)

Because of Supreme Court decisions by other Federalist Society judges, there are few limits on what Leo can do with all that money.

To put the total in context: If every person who voted in the 2020 presidential election sent in $10, we could almost equal Seid’s gift.

Republicans are trying to make hay out of Biden’s remark tagging their ideology as “semi fascism“, as if he were insulting everyone who voted for Trump rather than accurately characterizing the extreme MAGA faction — and perhaps giving it too much credit with that “semi” modifier.

It amazes me how sensitive MAGAts are, given how often they accuse liberals of being pedophiles and groomers and haters of America.

The comparisons being made to Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” line are accurate, but for the wrong reasons: Hillary was absolutely right, and subsequent history has vindicated her. Like Biden (and like Liz Cheney in other contexts), she was trying to get McCain/Romney Republicans to look at who they’re supporting these days: people who are fundamentally against democracy, who have formed a personality cult around their leader, and who feel justified in resorting to violence if they get outvoted or if their leader faces legal consequences for committing crimes. If that’s not “semi-fascism”, what do you call it?

and let’s close with something deep

If you go 3000 meters below sea level and hang around long enough, you might see an 8-foot-long sea creature known as a Solumbellula Sea Pen.

Horrible Things

A very important aspect of cult is the idea that if you leave the cult, horrible things will happen to you. This is important, and it’s important to realize. That people outside of a cult are potential members, so they’re not looked upon as negatively as people inside the cult who then leave the cult.

– Steve Eichel, quoted in “How to Identify a Cult

This week’s featured post is “Governing Party vs. Personality Cult“.

This week everybody was talking about the Mar-a-Lago search

I cover the details in the personality-cult portion of the featured post. (Look at the quote above in light of how Liz Cheney has been treated.)

Something that didn’t make it into that article: It would be easier to believe Trump’s “witch hunt” rhetoric if his people didn’t keep pleading guilty to multiple felonies, as his CFO Allen Weisselberg did this week.

and the tide shifting for the fall elections

Once or twice a year, I actually sympathize with Mitch McConnell. Like this week, when he lamented how “candidate quality” might keep Republicans from taking the Senate. (For what it’s worth at this stage of the campaign, Nate Silver agrees. His Senate forecast gives Democrats a 63% chance of holding the Senate compared to a 21% chance of holding the House — though even that number has been going up lately.)

“Candidate quality” is an oblique way of saying that Trump and his personality cult have pushed a lot of bozos through the Republican primaries, leaving McConnell little to work with.

In Georgia, an anti-Trump Republican group is airing an ad in which Herschel Walker’s ex-wife describes him holding a gun to her temple and threatening to blow her brains out. But no, the GOP isn’t anti-woman.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic senate candidate John Fetterman has mastered a technique that Republicans have been using since the first President Bush weaponized the Pledge of Allegiance against Mike Dukakis in 1988: latching onto some symbolic issue that works against your opponent and refusing to let up. His opponent, Mehmet (Dr.) Oz, has ten houses, and mostly lives in the one in New Jersey, where People magazine found him in 2020.

Fetterman keeps finding new ways to poke this issue, like getting a Jersey Shore TV star to weigh in on it, or hiring a plane to pull a banner welcoming Oz “home” to New Jersey, or tweeting a photo of Boardwalk with ten houses on it.

On abortion, Republican candidates keep digging deeper and deeper holes for themselves. Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Nixon justifies forcing a 14-year-old rape victim to bear a child because of the bonds some girls have formed with their babies. “Out of that tragedy, there was healing through that baby.”

I shouldn’t have to point out that we don’t buy this logic in any other situation. Stories of heroism and community bonding come out of every natural disaster, but we try to avoid disasters all the same. We want fire departments to put out blazes before they spread, even though the great fires of Chicago and London allowed those cities to rebuild themselves better. The archetypal World War II movie is about a tentative young man who grows up quickly and finds inner strength through his combat experiences, but those accounts shouldn’t inspire us to go out and start more wars.

Similarly, some 14-year-olds (or even younger girls) may rise to the occasion and make something positive out of bearing a rapist’s child. (More often, I suspect, a young woman looks back on a hellish period of her life and constructs an upbeat narrative to make peace with it.) But that’s no excuse for the government to force girls down that path.

Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano (a 2020 election denier who organized busloads of Pennsylvanians to go to Trump’s January 6 rally) associates with self-styled “prophet” Julie Green. She was invited to give the opening prayer at a Mastriano rally, where his campaign aide introduced her as “a representative of God”. Mastriano has posted one of Green’s 20-minute videos (where she made a series of vague National-Enquirer-style predictions that will be easy to verify after something-or-other happens, but also predicted a scandal for that “treasonous snake” Mitt Romney), and also a picture of himself with Green.

Green has said a lot of interesting stuff: Nancy Pelosi drinks children’s blood. Joe Biden actually died and has been replaced by an actor. Adam Schiff will face God’s judgment because “all will see the proof of your disgusting acts against My son, the true President”. In the same post, God speaks to Chuck Schumer: “Chuck Schumer, your story is similar to that of Nancy, Adam, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and Obama. … you will reap your Harvest though not before you see your nightmares come to pass. My son will return and will be put back in his rightful seat. You will all pay with your lives, and your plans will not succeed.”

Maybe I’m over-interpreting, but it sure sounds like she’s saying that when Trump gets back in power, he will have all his enemies killed. And that’s supposed to be a good thing.

The GOP isn’t the party of Romney and John McCain any more. If you’re still a Republican today, you’re in bed with a bunch of lunatics like Julie Green and Doug Mastriano.

and the pandemic

Reported new cases (for what those numbers are worth in these days of home testing) seem to have leveled off at 130K per day in mid-July and then started downward in August, going under 100K this week.

The theory that something turned in August is supported by the lagging (but more solid) statistics: hospitalizations (down 7% in the last two weeks) and deaths (down 7%).

Now we wait to see whether the start of the school year triggers a new surge.

As an aside: Much of the country is acting like Covid is over, as if 460 deaths per day (which, if it held, would work out to 168K deaths per year) isn’t worth our attention.

By now we all know people who have had Covid and appear to have recovered completely. But you can’t count on that, especially if you’re older.

The study found that 4.5 percent of older people developed dementia in the two years after infection, compared with 3.3 percent of the control group. That 1.2-point increase in a diagnosis as damaging as dementia is particularly worrisome, the researchers said.

and the Republican war on public education

Who didn’t see this coming? If your daughter loses an athletic competition in a state that bans transgender women from sports, you can accuse the winner of not being female.

After one competitor “outclassed” the rest of the field in a girls’ state-level competition last year, the parents of the competitors who placed second and third lodged a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association calling into question the winner’s gender.

In that case, the UHSAA was satisfied with school records, which listed the young woman as female every year back to kindergarten. So it wasn’t necessary to pull down her pants. An out-of-state-transfer or homeschooled-until-recently student might not have been so lucky.

The UHSAA says it takes all such complaints seriously, even if it’s just “that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough.”

Meanwhile, in Florida …

This Onion headline was just realistic enough to make me do a double-take: “Texas Schools Require Clear Bags To Prevent Students From Bringing In Books“. It’s satire. For now, at least.

But a real news story is only slightly less disturbing: A new state law requires every Texas public school to prominently display a poster stating “In God We Trust”. So it doesn’t matter if you’re raising your child in an atheist or a polytheist home; the government of Texas has decided that monotheism is best, and wants to make sure your child knows that.

The law’s defenders point out that “In God We Trust” is the national motto of the United States. But, like the “under God” addition to the Pledge of Allegiance, that motto wasn’t adopted until the 1950s. The Founders could have left us a religious motto, but chose not to, just as they chose not to include the word “God” in the Constitution.

It’s easy to debate the specific religious beliefs of the Founders, who were sometimes vague, sometimes changed their minds, and often disagreed with each other. But one thing they universally didn’t want was to repeat what England went through in the 1600s, when rival sects competed for control of the government, often violently. The Founders wanted religious competition to happen outside of government. Using government power to champion one group’s theology over another’s violates their vision.

This is just one more piece of evidence that originalism is a facade masking Christian privilege. When Christians want privileges that would have horrified the Founders, originalism goes out the window.

A good piece of journalism from the NYT. They talked to history teachers in different parts of the country about what they actually teach. So much of the “critical race theory” or “wokeness” debate is based on people’s fears and fantasies. It’s good to get some actual information.

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A week from tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of President Biden pulling American troops out of Afghanistan.

CNN’s security analyst Peter Bergen makes the this-was-a-huge-mistake case, which basically boils down to the fact that the Taliban is bad: It has destroyed women’s rights, has no interest in democracy, has mismanaged the country into a famine, and appears to be sheltering Al Qaeda again.

That’s all true. But what Bergen doesn’t offer is any plausible alternative plan other than to keep losing American troops there forever. Yes, the Afghan government we supported folded immediately after we began pulling out, without even waiting for us to finish withdrawing. The army that we had spent so much money equipping and training turned out to have no interest in fighting. So the withdrawal was an ugly scene.

To me, that collapse just underlined how badly we needed to get out. Twenty years of nation-building ended up building nothing that could stand on its own for even a week. Tell me: What could we have accomplished by staying another six months? Two years? Fifty years? Why would our exit be any less ugly then, after we had spent another few trillion dollars and gotten several thousand more of our soldiers killed?

Yes, Afghanistan was a huge American mistake, but the mistake was staying for 20 years when we weren’t accomplishing anything. Biden was the president who stopped living in denial, and I thank him for that.

On appeal, the NFL increased DeShaun Watson’s suspension from six games to 11 and added a $5 million fine. The league, Watson, and the players’ union have agreed to this, so my worst nightmare won’t happen: I was afraid the case would get into the federal courts, and that Watson would be allowed to play until a decision came down.

But I’m conflicted about this outcome. It wouldn’t be fair to suspend Watson forever, because (1) he was never indicted or convicted of anything, and (2) I disapprove of situations where a corporate monopoly gets to dictate terms to its workers.

Going in, I thought that anything less than half a season (8.5 games) would be a slap on the wrist. So I feel like I ought to be happy with 11 games.

But through this process, Watson has done nothing to earn my sympathy or empathy. He insists he did nothing wrong.

I’ve always stood on my innocence and always said I’ve never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone, and I’m continuing to stand on that.

So I suppose he wants us to believe that those two dozen massage therapists (who tell strikingly similar stories about him) must be making it all up. It sure looks like Watson has learned no lesson (other than possibly “don’t get caught”), so I’ll be surprised if he isn’t in trouble again before long.

In the meantime, I’m just grateful that I was never a Cleveland Browns fan. By trading for Watson and giving him a rich contract, the franchise has stained itself for years to come.

and let’s close with something artificial

People are having way too much fun with those AI algorithms that turn phrases into artistic images. Here, the opening lines of famous novels get the AI treatment. Like Gravity’s Rainbow‘s “A screaming comes across the sky.”


Against all evidence, I keep thinking the assholes are outliers.

– James Holden,
a character in the novel Babylon’s Ashes by James Corey

This week’s featured post is “What’s the point of punishing Trump?“.

This week everybody was talking about Kansas

In a deep red state, the Republican-dominated legislature hoped voters would approve a constitutional-amendment referendum that would let it ban abortion. So it scheduled the vote to coincide with a low-turnout primary where Republicans had interesting races and Democrats mostly didn’t. Result: the amendment failed by a wide margin, 59%-41%.

The result raises an obvious question: If an anti-abortion referendum can’t pass in Kansas, where could it pass? The NYT tried to answer. This kind of speculation is always sketchy, but here’s what they came up with: A similar national referendum (if such a thing existed) would be opposed by 65%. Seven states would clearly pass the anti-abortion referendum, and the question would be a toss-up in several more.

One thing the Kansas referendum proved is that people will come out to vote on this issue. During the Roe era, that was always the question: People might tell pollsters they supported abortion rights, but would they cast a vote on that issue, or just count on the Supreme Court to protect them?

The next question, which won’t be answered until November, is whether voters will choose candidates based on abortion rights. For years, suburban Republican women in particular may have thought of themselves as feminists, but have cast their votes with other priorities in mind, like taxes or national security.

The clearest test of this question is the Michigan governor’s race, where Gretchen Whitmer faces Republican challenger Tudor Nixon, who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

Indiana banned abortion Friday, except in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal abnormality, or serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Along the way, a Democratic representative unsuccessfully offered an amendment also banning erectile dysfunction drugs.

If an unwanted pregnancy is an act of God, then impotency must be an act of God.

Here’s how the abortion issue is being used in Texas by Mothers Against Greg Abbott (the other MAGA).

Texas has virtually banned abortion, but that doesn’t mean it values fetuses. Bloomberg has a long article about how bad maternity care is in rural areas near the Mexican border. Presidio (a town of 4500 or so residents) has no full-time doctor. The nearest hospital is 90 minutes away: Big Bend in Alpine (population 5900). But that hospital has had trouble staffing its labor and delivery unit.

Some months it’s been open only three days a week. … If [visiting Dr. Adrian] Billings’s patient goes into labor when the maternity ward is closed, she’ll have to make a difficult choice. She can drive to the next nearest hospital, in Fort Stockton, yet another hour away. Or, if her labor is too far along and she’s unlikely to make it, she can deliver in Big Bend’s emergency room. But the ER doesn’t have a fetal heart monitor or nurses who know how to use one. It also doesn’t keep patients overnight. When a woman gives birth there, she’s either transferred to Fort Stockton—enduring the long drive after having just had a baby—or discharged and sent home.

Why can’t Big Bend staff its maternity unit? Covid, of course, but also a more basic problem:

As quaint as Alpine is, it has some drawbacks. It’s three and a half hours from El Paso and more than five from San Antonio. There’s one grocery store, and the closest Walmart is an hour away. There’s no day care, which makes it hard for businesses to recruit families with two working parents.

“We’ll hire a nurse who’ll say, ‘Great, I can start work in two weeks. Just let me get day care set up.’ We tell them, ‘Well, we don’t have day care in Alpine.’ They’re like, ‘What are you talking about?’ They can’t accept the job,” says Roane McLaughlin, Alpine’s only obstetrician and gynecologist. Before she moved to the area in 2014, Alpine didn’t have an OB-GYN at all.

In short, rural Texas is a bad place to be pregnant, whether you want to be or not. The state is anti-abortion because it’s anti-woman, not pro-fetus.

Thinking about related rights, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby defends Rep. Glenn Thompson against charges of hypocrisy. Thompson is the GOP congressman who voted against a bill to codify same-sex marriage rights, and then delivered an upbeat toast at his son’s same-sex wedding. So: yes, a hypocrite.

Jacoby defends the vote because the Respect For Marriage Act is a “political gimmick” that is unnecessary because same-sex marriage rights aren’t in danger. We know this because “the court’s majority opinion [in Dobbs] repeatedly emphasizes that the overruling of Roe v. Wade does not cast doubt on prior rulings involving marriage or gay rights”.

And Supreme Court justices would never mislead us about something like that, would they? Also, if the bill accomplishes nothing, why not pass it? What harm would it do?

For those of you who don’t follow the Boston papers, before I read a Jacoby column I always ask myself “What would Pope Benedict have said about this issue?” That’s usually a good predictor.

BTW: the religious Right doesn’t think protecting same-sex marriage rights is a phony issue. They’re solidly against it, and are pressuring Republican senators.

and the Inflation Reduction Act

The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act Sunday, 51-50 on a straight party-line vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. (Remember this the next time someone tells you there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats.)

The IRA is primarily a climate bill that over-funds itself by cracking down on corporations that pay no taxes, leaving $300 billion to offset the deficit over the next ten years. It also protects ObamaCare subsidies, cuts drug costs for seniors, and does a few other things. According to the environmentalist website Grist:

Independent analyses estimate that the IRA would slash approximately 6.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s emissions ledger over the course of the next decade, prevent up to 3,894 premature deaths per year by 2030, and get the U.S. two-thirds of the way to Biden’s goal of reducing total emissions 50 percent compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade.

It now goes to the House, where it is expected to pass quickly.

This is a big deal. It’s much smaller than the $4 trillion plan Biden originally proposed, and smaller yet than the $6 trillion plan Bernie Sanders wanted. But getting it through the Senate with only 50 Democratic senators was a major accomplishment.

In other legislative news, Tuesday Mitch McConnell’s Republicans relented and passed the Honoring our PACT Act to help veterans suffering from the effects of toxic fumes from burn pits. It was the exact same bill they blocked last week.

The history of this bill is a lesson in Republican disinformation. In June, a version of the bill passed the Senate with 84 votes, which means at least 34 Republicans voted for it. (The 14 No votes were all Republicans.) The House passed the same bill, minus one line deleted technical reasons that had little impact on what the bill would do. So it went back to the Senate, where it was expected to pass without incident.

But then Senator Manchin announced that he had found a version of Biden’s Build Back Better plan he could support, now relabeled the Inflation Reduction Act (see above). McConnell decided to throw a tantrum by scrapping whatever bipartisan bill he could find, which turned out to be PACT.

Suddenly, 41 Republican senators — the exact number needed to sustain a filibuster — had grave reservations about PACT. In particular, Ted Cruz (who had voted for the nearly identical bill in June) now denounced it as a “budgetary trick” that would lead to $400 billion in pork-barrel spending.

Over the weekend, the GOP realized just how unpopular it is to play games with the health care of veterans who may be dying from something we did to them. So they came back and passed the same bill that was so terrible last week. Cruz voted for it, and put out a statement applauding its passage. All the features Cruz complained about when he blocked the bill had been in it when he voted for it in June, and when he voted for it again Tuesday.

Bear this history in mind as you hear Cruz and other Republicans tell you terrible things about the Inflation Reduction Act.

and the economy

The late-pandemic economy is breaking all the usual patterns. By some definitions, we’re already in a recession, but job growth is still booming and unemployment is the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. Year-over-year inflation is the highest since 1981, but gas and food prices have been dropping this last month or two.

In short, just about anything anybody says about the economy these days, good or bad, deserves a yes-but response.

and the pandemic

Case-numbers are nearly meaningless in this era of home tests whose results are never reported. But hospitalization and death statistics continue to creep upwards. Deaths per day are running just under 500, up from under 300 in early June.

and Alex Jones

A jury ruled that he has to pay nearly $50 million to two parents of a child killed at Sandy Hook. I discuss this in the featured post. I didn’t get around to mentioning that his lawyers’ blunder has exposed him to a possible perjury charge. That’s what happens when you should have called Saul.

and you also might be interested in …

Even the “courageous” Republicans are lining up to support election-denying anti-democracy Trumpists once the primaries are over. Peter Meijer endorsed the guy he lost to. After seeing anti-democracy Republicans win the primaries in his state, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted:

This is going to be an important election given the issues our state is facing and it’s important for Arizona Republicans to unite behind our slate of candidates.

It’s party-over-country, all the way.

I wish all the Biden’s-low-approval-rating articles would break out WHY voters disapprove: How many conservatives think he’s too liberal? How many liberals think he hasn’t done enough? How many people of all sorts don’t know what he’s done or believe he’s done something he hasn’t?

I remember similar polls about how unpopular ObamaCare was at first: They never broke out how many people wanted the status quo versus how many wanted universal health care. Those polls fooled Republicans into thinking a repeal would be popular.

Jamestown, Michigan just voted to defund its public library.

The controversy in Jamestown began with a complaint about a memoir by a nonbinary writer, but it soon spiraled into a campaign against Patmos Library itself. After a parent complained about Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, a graphic novel about the author’s experience coming out as nonbinary, dozens showed up at library board meetings, demanding the institution drop the book. (The book, which includes depictions of sex, was in the adult section of the library.) Complaints began to target other books with LGBTQ+ themes.

One library director resigned, telling Bridge she’d been harassed and accused of indoctrinating kids; her successor also left the job. Though the library put Kobabe’s book behind the counter rather than on the shelves, the volumes remained available.

“We, the board, will not ban the books,” Walton told Associated Press on Thursday.

The library’s refusal to submit to the demands led to a campaign urging residents to vote against renewed funding for the library.

I emphasize: This is a town library, not a school library. “Jamestown Conservatives” are trying to control what their fellow citizens are allowed to read.

Christianity Today looks at White Southern Protestants who have mostly stopped going to church. (About 45% of White Southerners report going to church once or less in the past year.) When Northeastern Catholics left their church, they tended to become more liberal, particularly on social issues. But WSP’s aren’t doing that. Instead, they’re just losing their trust in other people.

When asked, “Do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance or would they try to be fair?” 54 percent of white Protestant southerners who attended church no more than once a year said that most people would try to take advantage of them.

In response to the question “Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful or that they are mostly just looking out for themselves?” 58 percent said the latter.

The responses from white Southern Protestants who attended church every week were almost the direct opposite. Sixty-two percent said that most people would “try to be fair” rather than take advantage of them, and 57 percent said that most of the time people “try to be helpful.”

This isn’t news, but it’s such a good line I have to repeat it. In the preface to the 10th anniversary edition of his spy novel Slow Horses (now an Apple TV+ series) Mick Herron confessed that he actually doesn’t know that much about spies.

A writer spends the first part of his or her career hoping to be discovered; the rest hoping not to be found out.

and let’s close with something sporty

Legendary sports announcer Vin Scully died Tuesday night at the age of 94. He called the Brooklyn/LA Dodger games for 67 seasons (1950-2016), but also covered a wide variety of other sports events. If you’re a sports fan, you probably know his voice from historic moments like Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

But if you don’t remember Vin or his voice, here’s some amusing proof that he could make anything sound engaging: A guy who did the sports report for a San Diego rock station (and met Scully in the press box during a Padres/Dodgers game) once asked Scully to read his grocery list.

Kosher Legislation

Eventually is not OK. Tell someone with cancer that’s been fighting this for years that eventually they’ll get the help that they’ve earned. That is not an acceptable answer. It is despicable to continue to use America’s men and women who are fighting for this country as political pawns for anger you have about separate issues. This bill is utterly and completely focused on veterans’ issues. There is no pork in it. It is a kosher bill.

Jon Stewart, responding to the claim that the PACT Act will pass eventually

This week’s featured post is “A Week When Congress Mattered“.

This week everybody was talking about important legislation

The featured post covers the CHIPS Act, which passed last week; the Honor Our PACT Act, which Republicans blocked in the Senate; and the Inflation Reduction Act, which came back from the dead last week and now just needs Senator Sinema to sign on.

and a third party

Some moderate, Trump-rejecting Republicans and Democrat Andrew Yang announced a new political party this week, calling it Forward.

I think this effort is doomed, for reasons spelled out by NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie. A winner-take-all method of election, like the one that prevails in most the US, favors a two-party system. There’s no way to form a coalition after the election, as parties do in proportional-representation parliamentary systems, so there’s a strong incentive to form a majority coalition before the election. Typically that results in two coalitions battling to see which can command a majority.

Third parties, then, are temporary phenomena in America. They arise primarily when both of the existing parties have agreed to ignore some contentious issue. In the 1840s, for example, Democrats and Whigs both tried to downplay the slavery issue, which split both of them regionally. The Republican Party arose because there was effectively no way to vote against slavery. The Whigs then broke apart, the Civil War was fought, and Republicans took the Whigs’ place in the two-party system. (If you’re wondering how we got from there to here, where Republicans are the white-supremacy party, I explained that in 2012.)

Most third parties never even make a splash. The few that do usually get co-opted by one of the major parties. For example, when the Democrats in 1948 embraced the previously Republican issue of civil rights, the Dixiecrats gave worried Whites an anti-civil-rights option. That led to George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968, whose issues eventually got co-opted into the Republican Party by Nixon’s “southern strategy”.

The typical thought pattern of a third-party voter is “Neither major party offers any hope on my issue, so I don’t care which one of them wins.” That’s why third parties usually emerge on the extremes. If Donald Trump had lost the Republican nomination in 2016 to another John-McCain-style neo-conservative who would probably support the same foreign interventions as Hillary Clinton, an America First Party could have made a significant run. If Democrats continue to spin their wheels on climate change, a Green Party is a possibility. Either of those movements would probably fail at first, while simultaneously wrecking the chances of the major party closest to it, so the faction that spins off really needs to have hit that I-don’t-care-any-more point.

Like Bouie, I don’t see how to make that work in the center. Picture it: “I am so committed to my sensible middle-of-the-road agenda that it makes no difference to me whether America gets ‘woke’ or goes fascist.” Who thinks like like that?

The only way a centrist third party can succeed in our current system is with some non-partisan national hero at the top, like a Dwight Eisenhower fresh off of winning World War II. But Andrew Yang and Christine Todd Whitman can’t fill those shoes.

The other way a third party works is if we change the system first, say by instituting ranked-choice voting, as Alaska and Maine have. Why shouldn’t John Kasich have offered a centrist-Republican third option in 2016, if his Hillary-fearing voters could have listed Trump as their second choice?

The Forward platform resembles what Matt Yglesias promotes as “popularism”: focusing on the popular parts of your party’s message rather than the unpopular parts. David Roberts explains why that’s not likely to work:

Every proposal for a third party in the US ends up amounting to the same thing: a dream of center-left policy without all the nasty politics. It’s just a bunch of [very serious people] thinking, “hey, *we* won’t talk about defunding the police or pronouns, so the right will leave us alone.”

In other words, it takes the right’s bad-faith characterization of the left as its starting point. Of course, if such a party ever became a threat, the right could just as easily smear it! Then I guess the VSPs would start pining for a fourth.

The right’s entire raison d’être is to make being on the side fighting for fairness & justice *unpleasant*, to associate it with marxism or pedophilia or whatever. Third party wankers think they can escape this dynamic by being theatrically Reasonable, but they are deluded.

and tomorrow’s votes

According the Kansas Supreme Court, that state’s constitution currently contains a right to privacy that prevents the legislature from banning abortion. There’s a provision on tomorrow’s ballot that would change that, setting up a possible abortion ban (which the very Republican legislature would almost certainly pass).

This is the first time actual voters have gotten to weigh in on abortion since the Supreme Court junked a federal right to abortion in June. You’d expect a conservative state like Kansas to pass it, but the polling is unclear.

Also, it’s a confusing situation: The legislature scheduled this vote to coincide with a primary, when turnout is low. Initially that was assumed to favor anti-abortion voters, but abortion-rights voters may be more motivated than the legislature expected.

Plus, a Yes vote is a vote against abortion rights, while a No vote is a vote for abortion rights. Some number of voters are going to get that backwards.

The other state to watch is Missouri, where the GOP Senate primary tests just how much scandal the MAGA electorate is willing to write off. Former Governor Eric Greitens resigned in 2018 to avoid impeachment, assailed by charges of sexual assault on his mistress as well as various campaign finance violations.

Charges were eventually dropped and he escaped going to trial, but the claims are still out there. In addition, his ex-wife has accused him of domestic violence.

But Mr. Greitens has adopted the Trump guide to making vileness and suspected criminality work for you: Brace up, double down and bray that any and all allegations are just part of — all together now! — a political witch hunt.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Greitens is a political grievance peddler. Also like Mr. Trump, he saves his most concentrated bile for fellow Republicans. One of the most puerile ads of the midterms thus far has been Mr. Greitens’s “RINO hunting” spot, in which he leads a group of armed men in tactical gear as they storm a lovely little suburban home in search of G.O.P. heretics.

Greitens was the front-runner until big money got behind an ad campaign highlighting the ex-wife’s claims. That seems to have brought him down, but he’s still close enough that it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll lose.

Multiple polls show the former governor’s support slipping, dropping him behind a couple of his opponents. The state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, appears to have taken the lead. He, too, is an election-denying Trump suck-up. But at this point the G.O.P. is operating on a curve; simply weeding out those alleged to be abusers and other possible criminals can feel like a major achievement.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

and the DoJ’s 1-6 investigation

With Congress’ 1-6 hearings on hiatus, attention shifts to the Department of Justice. From the beginning, pundits have been skeptical of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s stomach for indicting the political actors behind the insurrection. Sure, DoJ might prosecute rioters by the hundreds and get convictions for trespassing and so forth, but would investigators ever start to climb the pyramid?

It looks like they are. The federal grand jury has been interviewing aides to Mike Pence, and asking them questions about conversations with Trump. DoJ also seems to be looking into Trump’s fake-elector scheme.

DoJ investigations are supposed to make as few waves as possible until indictments come down, and to vanish without a trace if there is no crime to indict. So you need experienced tea-leaf-readers to interpret the signs. My favorites are the folks at Lawfare.

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The Biden administration has been trying to get Russia to accept a prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, but so far it’s not working.

She’s black and female and in trouble with Russia, so course we know what side Trump will come down on: Biden shouldn’t try to get her out at all, because she’s “spoiled” and “loaded up with drugs”. (To me, that sounds like a good description of Don Jr.)

[The Russians] don’t like drugs. And she got caught. And now, we’re supposed to get her out — and she makes, you know, a lot of money.

Griner makes the WNBA max salary of $227K, less than what Bill Russell was making in the 1960s. That’s not a lot of money for somebody who is (1) at the top of her profession and (2) expecting the short career of a professional athlete. The reason she (and other WNBA stars) go overseas during the off-season is to supplement their income.

The Celebrity Net Worth web site estimates her entire fortune at $5 million. It takes Steph Curry about ten games to earn that much.

The Juice Media has a project it calls “honest government ads”. Here’s one for the Supreme Court.

Amanda Marcotte points out the similarities between Republican reactions to mass shootings and to horror stories from their abortion bans: Blame the victims, claim liberals have manufactured the story, and blatantly gaslight about what their laws actually say.

This is all in line with what I was pointing out two weeks ago: It’s an article of faith that conservative policies have no victims. If some obvious victim begins to get attention, that story has to be knocked down by any means necessary.

Michelle Goldberg makes a similar point:

Members of the anti-abortion movement, including [Alexandra] DeSanctis, often claim that abortion is never medically necessary. If they can’t bear to look clearly at the world they’ve made, maybe it’s because then they’d have to admit that what they’ve been saying has never been true.

Welcome to the world, George Jetson, who (according to a Warner Brothers wiki was born yesterday. Other sources have his birthday as August 27, but there’s general agreement he’s born in 2022.

Bill Russell died at age 88. He was arguably the greatest winner in sports history. In his 13-year NBA career, his Boston Celtics won 11 championships. He also won two NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco, and an Olympic gold medal with the US national team in 1956.

Also dead at 89 is Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series. Her character wasn’t as central to the show as the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad, so her importance is easy to overlook these days, when we’re used to seeing black actors in all sorts of roles. In 2016, a 50th anniversary retrospective noted:

Those of us who weren’t alive at the time probably can’t grasp how groundbreaking the character of Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was for audiences of the day. She was one of the first black women on TV not portrayed as a servant. … Nichols played her part in Star Trek’s most famous milestone – what is widely considered the first inter-racial kiss on American television. It wasn’t, in fact – Nancy Sinatra smooched Sammy Davis Jr on TV the year before, to name but one instance – but the moment was so iconic and definitive that it deserves credit.

and let’s close with a science-meets-horror moment

The researchers are calling it “necrobiotics“, which sounds like it ought to be the study of the living dead. Talk about high concept: the movie just seems to write itself. They’re manipulating dead spiders to grab things. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out that after spiders die, their corpses are basically hydraulic devices. If you can suppress your urge to run out of the room, it’s actually pretty cool.

No Ambiguity

In our hearing tonight, you saw an American President faced with a stark and unmistakable choice between right and wrong. There was no ambiguity. No nuance. Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order. There is no way to excuse that behavior. It was indefensible.

– Liz Cheney, 7-21-2022

This week’s featured post is “Trump doesn’t have a side of the 1-6 story“.

This week everybody was talking about the final summer 1-6 committee hearing

Thursday’s prime-time hearing [video, transcript] focused on the three hours between when Trump told his supporters to march to the Capitol and when he asked them to go home.

In between, he sat in the Oval Office dining room watching the riot unfold on Fox News and doing nothing to stop it. He could have asked the rioters to go home sooner, and he could have mobilized federal resources to support the Capitol Police resisting the attack. Many of his staffers urged him to do one or the other, but he refused.

Instead, he tweeted more incitement to those who wanted to hang Vice President Pence, and called Republicans in Congress urging them to further delay the counting the electoral votes. It seems clear that his primary goal that day was to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, and the riot was just one of his tools for achieving that purpose. He didn’t stop the riot because he wanted it to succeed.

Some of the most striking evidence presented concerned Vice President Pence’s safety. Audio and video of Pence’s Secret Service detail trying to move him from his office in the Capitol to a more secure location showed just how tense the situation was.

In addition, an anonymous White House security official (whose voice was disguised), told about listening to the Secret Service radio chatter.

Members of the V.P. detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives. There was a lot of yelling—a lot of very personal calls over the radio. It was very disturbing. I don’t like talking about it. There were calls to say goodbye to family members. For whatever reason on the ground, the V.P. detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.

The comic relief in the hearing was video of Josh Hawley pumping his fist to encourage the 1-6 mob, but then later running through the Capitol to get away from them. The clip got one of the few audible laughs we’ve heard in these hearings. His home-state Kansas City Star proclaimed Senator Hawley “a laughingstock” and quoted this tweet:

From now on, if political reporters ask Josh Hawley if he’s planning to run, he’s going to have to ask them to clarify.

Hawley has a book coming out next May: “Manhood: the Masculine Virtues America Needs“. When I first heard that, I thought it was a joke. It’s not, or at least not an intentional one.

The mystery of the missing Secret Service text messages from January 6 is looking worse and worse. The Service is claiming they innocently deleted the messages as part of a system upgrade, but that’s hard to credit. I upgraded computer this year, and I managed not to delete my files. The Secret Service, meanwhile, is an agency responsible for investigating cybercrimes. Basic data hygiene shouldn’t be beyond them.

The Service is also connected to another 1-6 mystery: Why was Mike Pence so reluctant to get in the car when agents wanted to take him to a safer place?

Mr Pence then reportedly outright refused to get into the vehicle, saying his security detail would ignore his demand not to leave the building and would instead “take off” against his wishes.

“I’m not getting in the car, Tim,” Mr Pence replied. “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”

This is speculative to the point of being a conspiracy theory, but what if the two are connected? Maybe the agents’ text messages say something about their plans for Pence.

Beaux of the Fifth Column doesn’t expect the hearings to turn Trump supporters into liberals, but he does suggest the lesson they should learn from what has been presented: Trump conned them with his whole stolen-election grift, and Trump’s people have been laughing at them this whole time. Now they need to look at their 2022 candidates, and sort out which ones were also fooled by Trump, and which ones were in on the con.

Steve Bannon was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress. He called no witnesses, and the jury deliberated for two-and-a-half hours.

I wonder what they talked about. “Should we hang around for lunch? Anybody know what they’re feeding us?” They needed to answer two questions: Did Bannon receive a lawful subpoena? Did he defy it? The answers were clearly yes.

He’ll be sentenced in October, possibly for as long as two years. He’s planning to appeal. His only hope is a purely partisan intervention by the Supreme Court’s Republican majority.

Peter Navarro has also been charged with contempt of Congress; his trial is due to start November 17. Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino have also been cited by Congress for contempt, but the Justice Department has not pressed charges.

The Murdoch Empire seems to have turned on Trump. This week both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post spoke out against him.

and abortion

A leading Republican candidate for governor of Michigan is clear about her position:

Asked … about a hypothetical situation in which a 14-year-old girl became pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by a family member, Dixon said, “Perfect example.” She went on, “Because I know people who are the product. A life is a life for me. That’s how it is. That is for me, that is my feeling.” 

“A life is a life” doesn’t seem to apply to the 14-year-old, whose life might be thrown considerably off-track.

The NYT has been staying on this theme: Life-of-the-mother exceptions to state abortion bans are not all they’re made out to be. Yes, they allow abortions if a pregnant woman is in danger of immediate death. But they don’t cover the situation where death is merely a probable consequence of carrying a fetus to term, or even of waiting to see how things develop.

Case in point: pregnant women with cancer.

[Rachel Brown] had always said she would never have an abortion. But the choices she faced were wrenching. If she had the chemotherapy that she needed to prevent the spread of her cancer, she could harm her baby. If she didn’t have it, the cancer could spread and kill her. She had two children, ages 2 and 11, who could lose their mother.

… Ms. Brown’s first visit was with a surgical oncologist who, she said, “made it clear that my life would be in danger if I kept my pregnancy because I wouldn’t be able to be treated until the second trimester.” He told her that if she waited for those months passed, her cancer could spread to distant organs and would become fatal.

This situation is exceptional, but not freakishly so. The article claims that about one in a thousand pregnant women gets diagnosed with cancer (often breast cancer). Given that millions of babies are born in the US each year, that means thousands of women face this decision. Or at least they did face it, before state governments began deciding for them that they must risk their lives.

Similar considerations apply to pregnant women prone to blood clots or at risk of stroke or heart attack. They may not be facing death at this particular moment, but waiting for a crisis might mean intervening too late to save them.

Some women, no doubt, want a child so badly that they would choose to accept such a risk. But that should be their decision, not the government’s.

A political science professor at Indiana University calls out IU leadership for its timidity in defending Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the woman who became a target for Indiana’s attorney general when she performed an abortion on the pregnant 10-year-old who came to her from Ohio, where the abortion was illegal. Bernard is an assistant professor at the IU School of Health.

President Whitten and Dean Hess especially ought to be ashamed of themselves for their cowardly silence. Indiana University is a public university, not an extension of the state’s Republican administration or the attorney general’s far-right, anti-abortion agenda. If it stands for anything, it is the freedom of its faculty and professional staff to do their jobs without being attacked for doing so.

and the pandemic

Numbers have definitely turned upwards in the last few weeks. For a long time deaths in the US had stayed in the 300s per day. Now they’re averaging 444.

President Biden tested positive for Covid Friday. He seems to be doing fine, which is a credit to the effect of vaccination. President Trump, if you remember, got very seriously ill in the days before vaccines.

and fascists being as outrageous as possible

Before getting angry, consider that these folks are trying very hard to make people like us angry. So if you’re in a bad mood already, I recommend skipping this section.

The quotes below are from the Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa this weekend. Turning Point USA claims it’s mission is “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom”, but it has basically become a Young Fascists organization. Recognizing the similarity (and possibly looking to recruit), local neo-Nazi groups showed up outside the conference. But TPUSA did at least find it necessary to officially denounce them. And I have to confess that the far right is so bizarre these days that it’s hard to tell whether someone is attempting to parody them. (I mean, is the guy carrying a “DeSantis Country” flag next to the guy with a swastika flag really a DeSantis supporter? He could be, but who can say for sure?)

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz won the prize for provoking the most social-media backlash with this gem:

Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? … Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb.

Because, of course, only women Gaetz finds attractive are entitled to have opinions or constitutional rights. (This quote is reminiscent of Trump defending himself against charges of sexual assault by claiming that his accusers were too ugly to assault, as if that ever stopped anybody.) Gaetz also went on an anti-Hunter-Biden rant, inspiring the crowd to chant “Lock him up!” Meanwhile, Gaetz himself is under investigation for sex trafficking and sex with a minor. Las Vegas should offer odds on whether Hunter or Matt sees the inside of a prison cell first.

Marjorie Taylor Greene labeled herself a “Christian nationalist”, because that always turns out well, particularly for Jews and Muslims, and even the occasional liberal Christian. “I think that’s what the Republican Party needs to be about,” she said.

Rick Scott used the classic Nazi technique of accusing opponents of your own sins.

In their new socialist America, everyone will obey, and no one will be allowed to complain. … The modern Left in America are the modern day version of book burners.

His state of Florida is where math books are banned from the schools for political reasons, and teachers are ordered to remove rainbow flags from their classrooms. The state’s largest school district currently has no sexual education curriculum, because the board has rejected all the texts.

Ted Cruz informed the crowd “I’m Ted Cruz, and my pronoun is Kiss My Ass.” I hope people start using that preferred pronoun to refer to Kiss My Ass. It’s the respectful thing to do.

Trump Jr. gave such an unhinged (and possibly drug-fueled) speech that liberals didn’t even bother to argue with whatever he was trying to say. Instead, Molly Jong-Fast asks “Is he OK?” I suspect the answer is no.

Donald Trump easily won the 2024 presidential straw poll with 79%, followed by Ron DeSantis with 19%. Mike Pence and other would-be contenders definitely need to worry about their lack of fascist appeal.

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Cities across Europe have been setting heat records. Large chunks of the US have been pretty hot too.

Somebody tried to stab Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor of New York. The guy has been arrested and charged. President Biden immediately denounced the attack. “Violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics.” I completely agree.

A note to the Republicans still making excuses for the January 6 rioters: See how easy that is? You can Just Say No to violence.

One thing the Speaker of the House can do without support in the Senate is force the other party to go on the record. This week Speaker Pelosi held votes on two of four bills that passed the House, but will probably die in the Senate:

  • The Women’s Health Protection Act, which codifies into law abortion rights that were constitutional rights before the Dobbs decision. In particular, no state can restrict abortion prior to fetal viability. This passed the House on July 15 with no Republican votes.
  • The Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, which ensures that “no person acting under state law could prevent, restrict, or otherwise retaliate against a person traveling across state lines for lawful abortion services.” This also passed on July 15, with three Republican votes and 205 votes against.
  • The Right to Contraception Act, which passed Thursday with eight Republican votes and 195 against. This codifies the right to use contraception, which is currently protected by the Supreme Court’s Griswold decision. That precedent is shaky now because it rests on the same legal base as Roe v Wade.
  • The Respect for Marriage Act, which codifies the right to same-sex and interracial marriage. These rights also are currently backed by Supreme Court precedents that the current Court might overturn. This passed Tuesday with 157 Republicans voting against it.

Expect to hear about these votes again in the fall campaign. These are all bills with substantial popular support, but they offend a small-but-influential sliver of the Republican electorate. Many Republicans would like to soft-pedal their position on such issues, but Pelosi forced them to vote Yes or No.

and let’s close with something squirrelly

Every photographer needs a theme. Geert Weggen’s theme is squirrels. I’m not sure how much he stages, how much he photoshops, and how much he captures in the wild, but the images are both amusing and amazing.

To Bind or Protect?

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect. There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.

Frank Wilhoit

This week’s featured post is “No Victims Allowed“.

This week everybody was talking about January 6

The public hearings will return to prime time on Thursday, with a “minute by minute” recreation of what Trump was doing (and not doing) while the Capitol was under attack.

Last Tuesday’s hearing [video transcript] centered on the decision to call a mob to Washington, and who some of the key organizers were. Vox lists the key takeaways from the hearing.

I had not previously made the connection between the “unhinged” White House meeting of December 18 — when Rudy, Sid Powell, Flynn and “the Overstock guy” urged Trump to have the military seize voting machines — and Trump’s “will be wild” announcement of the January 6 demonstration that he tweeted only hours later. In context, it looks like Cipollone et al convinced him that martial-law tactics wouldn’t work, so he moved on to the riot plan.

The other detail that struck me: Even though the call to march to the Capitol was only added to Trump’s speech at the last minute, lots of people seemed to know it would be there.

As one organizer texted a conservative journalist on January 5, “Trump is supposed to order us to capitol at the end of his speech, but we will see.” Another organizer texted that the plans had been kept under wraps to keep it a surprise: “It can also not get out about the march because I will be in trouble with the national park service and all the agencies but POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly.’”

That starts to sound like conspiracy.

Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony continues to pick up corroboration. None of the TrumpWorld sources who supposedly were going to dispute her account have gone on the record. Meanwhile,

a Metropolitan Police Department officer corroborated details of Hutchinson’s account and recounted what was seen to committee investigators.

Rep. Raskin:

[Pat] Cipollone has corroborated almost everything that we’ve learned from the prior hearings. I certainly did not hear him contradict Cassidy Hutchinson. … He had the opportunity to say whatever he wanted to say, so I didn’t see any contradiction there.

The Committee continues to warn Trump about witness tampering. It’s a simple crime that is not that hard to prove — kind of like Al Capone’s tax evasion.

Part of putting together an account of Trump’s behavior during the 1-6 riot involves looking at Secret Service text messages. But it turns out that some texts were deleted as part of a “device-replacement program”. We’ll see if that’s really as suspicious as it sounds. The committee says it will try to “reconstruct” the deleted messages.

The most amusing take on the Secret-Service-text-deletion story is that it vindicates Major Biden, who had to leave the White House because he kept biting agents. Maybe he had sniffed out that some of them weren’t good boys.

Steve Bannon’s trial starts today. He tried to delay or derail it every possible way, but it’s happening. Also, the Trump-appointed judge is not allowing the spurious defenses that Bannon pledged would turn the trial into a “misdemeanor from Hell”. “What’s the point in going to trial here if there are no defenses?” his lawyer asked.

Other investigations also seem to be picking up steam. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has sent “target letters” to a number of Georgia Republians

informing them they could be indicted for their role in a scheme to appoint alternate electors pledged to the former president despite Joe Biden’s victory in the state

Target letters are typically used to invite lower-level members of a conspiracy to come in and make a deal to testify against higher-level conspirators.

Willis has already subpoenaed Senator Lindsey Graham and Rudy Giuliani.

DoJ reportedly is also looking at the fake electors, possibly because it would be easy to make a case: People signed their names to false documents and sent them to the National Archives.

and more Manchin sabotage

Early on, I was inclined to give Joe Manchin the benefit of the doubt: He represents a conservative state, and is entitled to vote his worldview just like any other senator. If Biden’s Build Back Better plan doesn’t make sense to him, he shouldn’t vote for it.

And in a 50-50 Senate, each Democrat is in a position to hold out for whatever deal they want. That’s how politics is, and if people don’t like it they should elect a few more liberal Democratic senators to take Manchin’s veto away.

What’s been driving me nuts, though, is that Manchin doesn’t seem to be negotiating in good faith. Negotiations that have no reason to take more than a few weeks instead stretch into many months, and then at the end there’s no deal. If there was nothing he could agree to, why didn’t he just say so early on?

This week the climate portion of Build Back Better fell apart.

Sen. Joe Manchin appears to have torpedoed a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, telling Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer Thursday evening that he won’t support moving forward on proposed tax hikes on wealthy Americans and corporations that would pay for a package of climate change and energy policies, at least not right away, this according to two aides familiar with the matter.

Manchin cites fears about inflation, but since the spending is balanced against taxes, and won’t drive up the deficit, it’s not clear why the bill should be inflationary.

Meanwhile, new climate anomalies keep popping up. Europe is seeing wildfires in France and Spain, and England is set to break 40 degrees Centigrade (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time ever.

and abortion

The featured post discusses the pregnant Ohio 10-year-old who had to leave the state for an abortion.

I don’t think this story is a one-timer. Abortion is fundamentally a more complicated decision than conservatives picture, and their simplistic bans are going to lead to a long series of I-didn’t-mean-that cases.

The Biden administration is insisting that hospitals have to provide abortions in emergency situations, even if state law bans them.

[HHS Secretary Xavier] Becerra said the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act pre-empts state laws that restrict abortion access in emergency situations. … Although most of the state abortion bans make exceptions for when the woman’s life is in danger, U.S. health officials worry that wary doctors could wait too long to treat ectopic pregnancies and complications from miscarriages while awaiting legal guidance.

Texas, meanwhile, appears to be holding out for a hospital’s right to let a woman die.

Texas on Thursday asked a federal court to block the Biden administration’s requirement that physicians and hospitals provide abortions in medical emergencies.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, argued that federal law does not confer a right to an abortion.

Dov Fox is a law professor and the director of University of San Diego’s Center for Health Law Policy and Bioethics. In a NYT column, he raises the issue of doctors who perform illegal abortions for reasons of conscience.

The American legal regime that governs medical conscience is broken. While conscientious providers find virtually no refuge in the conscience clauses that are codified in almost every state, refusers are protected almost categorically. And just about all of these conscience laws are reserved for denials of care.

It’s not hard to imagine what a conscience-based abortion would look like: Even if the state has a life-of-the-mother exception in its abortion ban, the doctor may draw that line in a different place than the legislature does. A doctor said this to ABC News:

When I see patients, for instance, who have a major cardiac problem, a lot of the time they have a risk of a major cardiac event of up to 15% to 25%, even up to 50%. At the moment they’re fine. But as they get further into pregnancy, that’s going to put their life more and more at risk.

So do I have to wait until they’re on death’s doorstep, or can I intervene at that point to prevent more harm and more damage to them?

The NYT is covering the Kansas referendum on abortion. A Yes vote amends the state constitution to allow the legislature to restrict or ban abortion. The Republican legislature has scheduled the vote to coincide with the August 2 primary election, which has a lower turnout than a November election. The amendment is also confusingly worded. It doesn’t sound like what they’d do if they thought the electorate was solidly behind them.

The whole process smacks not so much of returning power to the people as of showing contempt for them and for the democratic process, a trend that is becoming standard operating procedure throughout much of the G.O.P.

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Remember what a to-do it was last week, when protesters came to a restaurant Justice Kavanaugh was eating at, but there was no interaction, no one was harmed, and nothing was damaged?

A source told Politico that Kavanaugh did not actually see or hear the protestors in question during his dinner at Morton’s, though he did reportedly leave the restaurant before dessert.

What? No dessert? Is this Nazi Germany or something?

My comment was:

Any time liberal protesters inconvenience a conservative official, it’s going to get national attention. (Generally, conservative protesters have to shoot somebody to get similar coverage.)

Well, Saturday an armed man was arrested outside Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s home in Seattle. He was armed, and was yelling that she should “go back to India” because he was going to kill her. The story just didn’t seem to take off like the Kavanaugh story did, even though the threat seems far more serious.

Maybe if he’d actually shot her, that would get Kavanaugh-level attention.

The New Yorker has an enlightening article about LGBT children’s books. Often the issues that children bring up in a book discussion are not the ones that adults anticipate. The article also makes a distinction between “didactic” queer stories (which are suppose to teach children that difference is OK) and “just-are” queer stories (in which gay or trans people are just characters in a story about something else).

Ron DeSantis types assume that the presence of LGBTQ characters makes a story “sexual”, when kids don’t read that into the text at all.

Several prominent Republicans — former senators, former judges, etc. — have put out a report debunking the various stolen-election theories Trump supporters have put forward. It’s called Lost, Not Stolen, and it goes through the claims state by state.

If you’ve been following this stuff closely, you won’t find anything new. I already knew, for example, that when the Cyber Ninjas were hired by Arizona’s Republican legislature to “audit” the state’s 2020 election results, Biden’s lead actually grew in their recount. And that when a committee in Michigan’s Republican state senate investigated their state’s election, they found “no evidence presented at this time to prove either significant acts of fraud or that an organized, wide-scale effort to commit fraudulent activity was perpetrated in order to subvert the will of Michigan voters”.

But the report is significant for two reasons

  • This isn’t Democrats saying Biden won and Trump lost, it’s Republicans.
  • The report is encyclopedic, so it addresses the whattabout-this/whattabout-that tactic of Trumpists, where refuting one conspiracy theory just causes them to raise another.

A committee of the Texas House has put out its report on the Uvalde school shooting. The Texas Tribune summarizes:

No one was able to stop the gunman from carrying out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in part because of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power

Police from various jurisdictions, from the school district to the state to the Border Patrol, descended on Uvalde, but nobody took charge of the 376 officers.

The report speculates that the shooter had never fired a gun until the day of the massacre.

and let’s close with something cosmic

I like to close with something you haven’t seen before, and often the closing is some set of spectacular photos. This week, though, the most spectacular photos (maybe ever) were headline news: The first returns from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Land of the Free

Even the most stalwart conservative who dares not venture out in the street at night and hesitates on occasion to drink the water or breathe the air must now wonder if keeping public services at a minimum is really a practical formula for expanding his personal liberty.

– John Kenneth Galbraith (1969)

This week’s featured post is “The Right has an immature notion of Freedom“.

This week everybody was talking about gun violence

I discuss the symbolic meaning of Highland Park (home of Ferris Bueller and Joel Goodsen) in the featured post. But I wanted to keep that post short, so I’ve got more to say here about guns.

Friday, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated. Still an influential politician after his retirement, Abe was giving a campaign speech for his party’s candidates when someone killed him with the homemade gun shown below. The gun would only allow two shots, so no one else was injured.

NRA shills are using Abe’s assassination, together with a recent shooting at a mall in Denmark, to argue that gun restrictions don’t work. “See,” they say, “even countries with serious gun control can’t stop shootings.”

This kind of thinking is similar to the claims that Covid vaccines and masks don’t work, because vaccinated people can still get sick, even if they wear masks. It exemplifies the conservative tendency to think in absolutes while ignoring numbers. (Scientific American analyzed statistics from March and deduced that vaccinated-and-boosted Americans were 17 times less likely to die of Covid than their unvaccinated countrymen. That’s not a guarantee, but I see it as an advantage well worth the inconvenience.)

It’s true that Japan and Denmark have both controlled guns much more tightly than the US, and so have fewer civilian guns. The US has 120 guns per 100 residents, Denmark 9.9, and Japan 0.3. Even those numbers don’t capture the full difference, since millions of American guns are powerful semi-automatics like AR-15 rifles or Glock handguns.

As a result, gun violence in both countries is rare and incidents are less deadly than in the US. In 2017, (the most recent year Wikipedia had statistics for) the US had 12.21 gun deaths per 100K residents per year, 4.46 of which were murders. In 2015, Denmark had 0.91 gun deaths and .18 gun murders per 100K residents. Japan in 2015 had 0.02 gun deaths and no gun murders. According to the NYT, Japan has had only 14 gun-related deaths since 2017, fewer than the number of Americans who died in the Uvalde shooting alone.

The Danish mall shooter apparently used a hunting rifle that was not semi-automatic and was purchased illegally. He managed to kill three people before being subdued. Abe’s assassin used a homemade zip gun that gave him only two shots.

The Abe shooting could be a dictionary example of an exception that proves the rule. Months of planning and preparation allowed his shooter to get those two shots off. Contrast the Abe attack with the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011, when a shooter with a legally purchased semi-automatic handgun got off dozens of shots, killing six and wounding 13 others.

The NYT sums up:

[A]n American-style shooter can, virtually on a whim, readily arm themselves with the firepower to kill large numbers of people before police can respond, targeting victims even hundreds of yards away.

But a Japanese shooter may require long stretches of dangerous preparation to build their weapon. They then must secret it to within feet of their victim and squeeze off what may be their only shot before they become effectively defenseless, and a bystander overpowers them.

It is also worth noting that, contrary to NRA propaganda, a disarmed citizenry has not made either Denmark or Japan vulnerable to tyranny. In 2021 the US had a democracy index of 7.85, noticeably lower than Denmark’s 9.09 and Japan’s 8.15. In neither country has a leader defeated at the polls tried to hang onto power by force, as Donald Trump recently did.

Quite the opposite of promoting democracy, America’s loose gun culture has made our politicians more distant and less approachable. Our presidents talk to us from behind shields and after we’ve been searched, because it’s not safe to do anything else.

Our gun culture is also related to the trigger-happy nature of our police. Police in America are now killing more than 1000 people per year. That’s a per capita rate a bit higher than countries we think of as repressive, like Pakistan and Egypt. By contrast, Denmark had no police killings in 2019, and Japan had two in 2018, the most recent years I could find statistics for.

Living with the risk of being killed by the police doesn’t sound like freedom to me. But it’s necessary, police tell us, because every suspect they meet might be armed and ready to shoot them.

and January 6

The next hearing is tomorrow at 1 p.m. It’s supposed to be focused on the role of extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Rep. Jamie Raskin said:

One of the things that people are going to learn is the fundamental importance of a meeting that took place in the White House [on Dec. 18, 2020].

That was the meeting when “Team Crazy” — Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn — urged Trump to take radical actions like seizing voting machines. The next day, Trump sent out his tweet inviting his followers to a protest rally in DC on January 6, promising it would “be wild”.

We’re also likely to see video from Pat Cipollone’s testimony Friday. Cipollone was Trump’s White House Counsel and figured in several of the stories told by Cassidy Hutchinson. (She described his attempts to put the brakes on before too many laws got broken.) Rep. Adam Kinzinger has said Cipollone’s testimony didn’t contradict what the committee had previously heard. I assume that means that when they asked him about the actions and statements Cassidy Hutchinson attributed to him, he didn’t say no.

We now know the reason Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony was rushed into an “emergency” session: The Committee was afraid of TrumpWorld’s escalating witness tampering.

This isn’t a January 6 story exactly, but it’s part of the whole abuse-of-power theme. The IRS randomly selects a handful of taxpayers, about 1 in 30,000 for extreme audits. By some bizarre “coincidence”, both Jim Comey and Andy McCabe — FBI directors Trump blamed for the Russia investigation — got “randomly” selected. The Treasury Department inspector general will investigate whether the White House used inappropriate influence.

As so often happens, this Trump scandal appears to be a real version of a fake scandal Republicans tried to pin on Obama.

The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman looks into “What Happened to Michael Flynn?

and Boris Johnson

After a series of scandals (that look fairly tame by Trump standards) caused members of his Conservative Party to quit his government, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation on Thursday.

It’s only sort of a resignation, though, because he will continue as “interim” prime minister until the Party can settle on a new leader, which might not happen for months.

Jonathan Pie is a fictional news commentator created by comedian Tom Walker. His “Bye-bye Boris” rant is epic. From an American point of view, it’s hard not to notice how much of Pie’s characterization of Johnson and the Tories also applies to Donald Trump and the Republicans who still bow down to him.

Lies on top of lies on top of lies. He lies and then gets people to lie on his behalf and then lies about the lying. … who is so blatant about his dishonesty that when accused of lying to Parliament, he simply tries to change the rules to make it OK to lie to Parliament. …

The devastating cries over the last few days from the Tory Party of “Enough is enough” and “one step too far” are coming from the same people who have sat and watched him take a flame-thrower to their party and our constitution for three fucking years. … All of them, talking about trust and integrity. If you cared so much about trust and integrity, then why the fuck did you put Boris Johnson in #10 in the first place?

and responses to Roe

So many red states are restricting or banning abortion that it’s hard to keep up. NBC has a state-by-state rundown as of Friday. CNN covers the legal challenges to those laws. In some states, the state constitution may protect reproductive rights even if the federal constitution no longer does.

The first real test of abortion’s new electoral significance will come in a few weeks in Kansas. On August 2, Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment that will not outlaw abortion itself, but will give the legislature the power to do so — power it will almost certainly use.

  • YES, which supports amending the Kansas constitution to state, that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding for abortion and that the state legislature has the authority to pass laws regarding abortion, or
  • NO, which opposes amending the Kansas constitution, thereby maintaining the legal precedent established in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt, that there is a right to abortions in the Kansas Bill of Rights.

Interestingly, abortion has given blue states a way to appeal to business: Come here and you won’t have trouble recruiting women to work for you.

It’s hard to know what to make of President Biden’s response to the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. He waited three days to comment, but said more-or-less the right thing when he did, denouncing “the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court” and calling on Congress to put aside the filibuster and protect reproductive rights by statute.

He issued an executive order on Friday, but it doesn’t have a lot of teeth. It’s mostly about instructing HHS and DoJ to identify actions the government can take, rather than telling them to do anything. Maybe those departments will come back in two weeks with a list of meaningful actions. Or maybe not. One way of the other, it raises the question: We all saw this coming after Alito’s draft leaked in May. Why wasn’t there a contingency plan in place?

Now quite possibly Biden has concluded that anything he can do without Congress will be set aside by the Supreme Court anyway, and he may be right. But my personal opinion is that he should force the Court’s theocrat majority to show its hand. Trump understood the importance of putting up a fight, even if you were going to lose; Biden doesn’t seem to.

Any time liberal protesters inconvenience a conservative official, it’s going to get national attention. (Generally, conservative protesters have to shoot somebody to get similar coverage.)

Wednesday night, reproductive-rights protesters learned that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was eating at Morton’s Steakhouse in downtown DC. They showed up in front of the restaurant and appear not to have assaulted anybody or broken anything. Kavanaugh avoided them by slipping out the back. Sources differ about whether he finished his meal first.

Anyway, this is now an outrage in right-wing media, with Fox News’ Steve Doocy hilariously denouncing the protesters for violating Kavanaugh’s “privacy”. Such moments make me miss Jen Psaki, who I’m sure would have had the perfect response.

Pete Buttigieg, though, did pretty well with the question yesterday on Fox News.

Look, when public officials go into public life, we should expect two things. One, that you should always be free from violence, harassment, and intimidation. And two, you’re never going to be free from criticism or peaceful protest, people exercising their First Amendment rights.

Implicit in that answer is that Supreme Court justices need to develop the same kind of thick skin politicians have, now that they’ve decided to start running the country.

It was going to happen: Chaz Stevens is asking a Florida high school that he attended if he can lead a Satanist prayer at the 50-yard-line at one of its football games. “There’s been no word back from them on that,” Stevens said.

Jonathan Rauch argues for a federal abortion compromise based on the Defense of Marriage Act:

Congress could take important steps to localize the issue. It could make abortion bans unenforceable across state lines, for example, which would please pro-choicers. It could clarify that states have the power to restrict abortion within their boundaries, which would please pro-lifers. Such measures allowing states to go their separate ways would provide time and political space for a durable policy consensus to form.

Rauch anticipates that consensus eventually mirroring Roe, just as the debate that raged during the DOMA years eventually settled on legal same-sex marriage. (According to Wikipedia, Mississippi and Arkansas are the only states where a majority opposes same-sex marriage, and those margins are narrow. Support is over 80% in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington.)

Here’s why I don’t buy that comparison: The main thing same-sex marriage had going against it in the 1990s was that most people had never seen one. That made the practice easy to demonize in the most outlandish terms: In 2004, as the first American same-sex marriages were being performed in Massachusetts, religious-Right leader James Dobson claimed they would cause the American family to crumble, “presaging the fall of Western civilization itself”.

Lots of people really believed that kind of nonsense. But those arguments collapsed as soon as same-sex marriages became real events rather than apocalyptic fantasies. It was hard for theocrats to claim that civilization would fall in New York, after it had obviously not fallen in Massachusetts. Once same-sex marriage became that woman at the office, or that gay couple down the street, the panic was hard to sustain.

Legal abortions, on the other hand, have already been happening for 50 years. I fail to see why a DOMA-like era will usher in a new consensus.

and the pandemic

It’s hard to know what to make of the numbers: deaths remain in the 300-350-per-day range they’ve been in for weeks, hospitalizations and positivity rates are rising, and nobody knows what the case numbers mean any more, now that so many people with minor cases never tell the medical system they’ve tested positive at home.

Meanwhile, the BA-5 omicron subvariant has become the dominant strain of Covid in the US. It circumvents immunity produced by both vaccinations and infections by previous strains.

and you also might be interested in …

The June jobs report came out and was surprisingly good.

The unemployment rate held steady at 3.6%, as analysts expected, while the alternative U6 measure of unemployment, which includes discouraged and some part-time workers, fell sharply to 6.7% — an all-time low that suggests the labor market remains exceptionally tight.

That alternate measure is known to economists as U6. The number you usually hear is U3.

More and more Democrats are discussing whether Biden should run for reelection — and mostly saying “no”. Personally, I think Biden has been dealt a difficult hand and does not get nearly enough credit for cleaning up Trump’s mess. But I also think he shouldn’t run. I believe his heart is in the right place, but that he’s not an effective spokesman for Democratic ideals.

I think alternative candidates should start declaring, without waiting for Biden to decide what he’s doing.

The situation reminds me of one early in Lyndon Johnson’s career. The congressman from his district died, and his widow was dithering about whether she would run. If she ran, she would be the obvious favorite.

Some mentor figure, I forget who, told LBJ not to wait for her decision. He should announce his own candidacy, and make it clear that the campaign would be a real battle rather than a coronation. If he did that, the widow probably wouldn’t run. And that’s how it worked out.

Obviously, people inside the administration like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg can’t do that without appearing disloyal. But there’s no reason why Democrats in Congress or in governorships shouldn’t try it.

The tables have turned: Now Elon Musk wants out of his agreement to buy Twitter, but Twitter’s board is trying to hold him to it.

Musk’s problem is that he overbid, and the market has turned against him. He offered $54.20 per share for the Twitter shares he doesn’t already own, but Friday’s closing price was $36.81. He needs to either sell or borrow against his Tesla stock to finance the purchase, but that share price also has dropped: from $985 per share to $752.

An unsuccessful Republican candidate in Georgia’s recent gubernatorial primary made an issue of the Georgia Guidestone monument, calling it “satanic” and promising to have it torn down. Wednesday it was bombed, reminding me at least of when the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddha statues.

A new Arizona law makes it illegal to film police encounters within eight feet unless you’re the one being questioned.

GOP Senate candidate and ex-football-star Herschell Walker hasn’t just been lying to the public about his three secret children (that we know of). He’s been lying to his campaign staff. Quoting an anonymous source, The Daily Beast reported:

He spouts falsehoods “like he’s breathing,” this adviser said—so much so that his own campaign stopped believing him long ago.

“He’s lied so much that we don’t know what’s true,” the person said, adding that aides have “zero” trust in the candidate. Three people interviewed for this article independently called him a “pathological liar.”

The Walker campaign declined comment. But hours after this story published, [Scott] Paradise—the campaign manager—issued a statement broadly criticizing, but not denying, the story.

A small town in New Hampshire got a lesson in what happens when you don’t show up to vote. Libertarians took over the town meeting and cut the school budget in half.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but librarians are under fire from the Right.

and let’s close with something cultural

An article in Friday’s NYT combines high-tech, cloak-and-dagger tactics, and issues of cultural appropriation: The British Museum displays the Elgin Marbles, statuary that was originally in the Parthenon, but was bought from the Turks by a British ambassador (Thomas Bruce, earl of Elgin) in the early 1800s. Greece holds that the Ottoman Empire was an invading power, and had no right to sell the statues; it wants them back.

Repatriating them would require an act of Parliament, and the British Museum doesn’t want to give them back, for a variety of reasons, which I find unconvincing. For one: The marbles have been in England so long that they have put down cultural roots there as well. Keats wrote a poem about them, and Rodin was inspired by seeing them in the British Museum. But if you make that case, you also have to acknowledge another part of that cultural heritage: Byron’s characterization of Elgin as a “filthy jackal” in “The Curse of Minerva“.

For Elgin’s fame thus grateful Pallas pleads,  
Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!     
Be ever hailed with equal honour here     
The Gothic monarch and the Pictish peer:  
arms gave the first his right, the last had none,  
But basely stole what less barbarians won.     
So when the lion quits his fell repast,     
Next prowls the wolf, the filthy jackal last

Byron envisioned an angry Athena withdrawing wisdom from Britain, resulting in the loss of both its empire and its industry — which has pretty much come to pass.

Enter high tech. Roger Michel, executive director of the Institute of Digital Archaeology, suggests a possible solution: Do detailed 3-D scans, and have his robot sculptors make near-perfect copies. Send the Marbles to the Acropolis Museum in Athens, and let the British Museum display the copies. “When two people both want the same cake, baking a second, identical cake is one obvious solution.”

This scenario opens up philosophical issues about the meaning of “identical”. (What happens to the Louvre if robot reproduction eventually allows anybody to own a brushstroke-by-brushstroke Mona Lisa copy that only a laboratory can distinguish from the original?) And since Michel’s plan involves repatriating the originals, the British Museum isn’t cooperating. That’s where the cloak-and-dagger comes in.

In March, after the museum refused a formal request to scan the pieces, Mr. Michel and Alexy Karenowska, the technical director of the Institute, showed up in the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum as visitors and resorted to guerrilla tactics. While security staff looked on, the two used standard iPhones and iPads, as many of the latest models are equipped with Lidar sensors and photogrammetry software, to create 3-D digital images.

Then the robots got to work. Two samples will be displayed somewhere in London by the end of the month. Next, Michel plans to produce two more duplicates, which will (in some ways) be more authentic than the originals.

Later this summer, Mr. Michel plans to have the robot fabricate two more copies and touch them up to show how the originals would have looked, with any absent pieces restored and damage repaired.

But wait, there are more issues: If the Marbles aren’t Michel’s, and aren’t even the British Museum’s, what right does he have to make these copies?

The Greek government’s apparent reluctance to weigh in troubles Bernard Means, director of the Virtual Creation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Means said he would only have attempted such a project with the consultation and full support of Greece. “Otherwise,” he said, “the effort is suggestive of that colonial mind-set, where those who appropriated objects without the informed consent of the colonizers feel they have the right to do with the objects as they please — often in the guise of science, and even if well-intentioned.”


Some years ago, I remarked that “[w]e’re all textualists now.” It seems I was wrong. The current Court is textualist only when being so suits it. When that method would frustrate broader goals, special canons like the “major questions doctrine” magically appear as get-out-of-text-free cards.

– Justice Elena Kagan
dissenting opinion in West Virginia v EPA

This week’s featured post was “Inside the White House on 1-6“.

It’s traditional on the 4th of July to say something patriotic and upbeat about America. But I don’t have it in me this year. As historian Michael Beschloss put it on MSNBC this week:

We’re living through a time where I can’t predict to you whether we’ll be living in a democracy five years from now or not. I hope we are.

This week everybody was talking about Cassidy Hutchinson

I discuss her testimony to the 1-6 Committee in the featured post. But here I’ll mention a couple of other things about Tuesday’s hearing.

One of the more amazing moments was video of Michael Flynn repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment (against self-incrimination) to avoid answering what ought to be softball questions, like “Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?” WTF, General Flynn?

The closed captioning on at least one stream of the hearing provided a little comic relief: Somebody forgot to tell the automated speech-to-text app about White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, so it struggled whenever anyone said his name. My favorite of its many attempts was “passive bologna”. I think Pat has a new nickname.

and new Supreme Court decisions

Last week I focused on three major decisions: overturning Roe, telling Maine it had to support religious schools (in certain circumstances), and tossing out New York’s gun law. Two more important decisions have happened since then: supporting a public-school football coach’s right to lead public prayers on the 50-yard line, and blocking the EPA from pushing utilities to shift away from coal-fired power plants.

Both rulings were typical of this term: their direct effects were less significant than the principles they laid down, and how those principles might be used in future decisions. (Even the Roe reversal, significant as that is on its own, presages a still broader rollback of rights.)

Next term could be even worse: The Court has accepted a case that tests the right of state legislatures to handle federal elections however they want, independent of any previous laws or the state constitution that brought the legislature into existence. Some legislatures in swing states (Wisconsin, for example) are so gerrymandered that the voters have no real say any more. If this case goes wrong, those legislatures could deliver their states’ electoral votes as well, disenfranchising voters in presidential elections.

It’s hard to know what to make of the praying-coach decision, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, because Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion so badly misstates the facts of the case. Gorsuch says Coach Kennedy “offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied.” If that were true, Kennedy would never have lost his job and there would be no case to decide. But in reality, the coach’s “quiet, personal prayer” looked like this:

Bremerton, Washington is not far from Seattle, and a Seattle Times columnist tells the real story, going back to a 2015 Times article.

It was an account of a news conference Kennedy gave before the team’s big homecoming game against Centralia. “Football coach vows to pray” was the print headline.

It describes — in Kennedy’s own words — how he was inspired to start holding midfield prayers with students after he saw an evangelical Christian movie called “Facing the Giants,” in which a losing team finds God and goes on to win the state championship.

Kennedy “has held his postgame ritual at midfield after each game for a motivational talk and prayer ever since,” the story recounted. By doing so, Kennedy said he is “helping these kids be better people.”

So, the coach’s intention was never the personal “free exercise” of religion the First Amendment protects. He was abusing his publicly-financed position in order to influence his students to participate in a religious ritual, precisely the “establishment of religion” the First Amendment bans. This was not an obscure point that the lawyers overlooked — it was why the appeals court ruled against Kennedy.

Since the decision, I’ve seen lots of people on social media say that Muslims, Pagans, and Satanists should start leading students in prayer, now that the Court has said it’s OK. But that’s not going to work, because Muslims, Pagans, and Satanists won’t be able to find a Supreme Court justice willing to lie for them the way Gorsuch lied for Kennedy.

Dating myself a little, I’m recalling the cereal commercials that always ended “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.” Similarly, “religious liberty” is for Christians, as Muslims, Pagans, and Satanists will discover if they try to imitate Coach Kennedy.

The decision in West Virginia v EPA has no immediate consequence: In 2015, Obama’s EPA put forward a plan that would force utilities to lower carbon emissions by shifting from high-carbon generation (like coal-fired plants) to low-carbon generation (like renewables, nuclear, or from coal to natural gas). Red states sued to block the plan, the Supreme Court put a temporary stay on it, and then the Trump administration reversed it. In the meantime, the market forced the same shift the Obama administration had wanted to mandate.

So why is this a case? Well, the Biden White House is considering an updated version of the plan, which the Court is trying to scuttle preemptively.

More importantly, though, Chief Justice Roberts used this occasion to announce a newly invented legal principle: the major questions doctrine:

In certain extraordinary cases … [a regulating] agency must point to “clear congressional authorization” for the power it claims.

This is a relative of the “nondelegation doctrine” of the infamous Lochner Court, which Neil Gorsuch has been trying to revive since he came to the Supreme Court. (Gorsuch’s concurrence makes the connection more explicit.)

Justice Kagan’s dissent describes the situation in more detail: In the Clean Air Act, Congress understood that new environmental dangers would appear, and new regulatory tactics would become necessary. So it wrote a special section into the law, section 111, to give the EPA authority to handle such situations. This is the authority the EPA was using when it issued the Clean Power Plan.

The major questions doctrine says that authorization is not clear enough. Kagan writes:

The majority’s decision rests on one claim alone: that generation shifting is just too new and too big a deal for Congress to have authorized it in Section 111’s general terms. But that is wrong. A key reason Congress makes broad delegations like Section 111 is so an agency can respond, appropriately and commensurately, to new and big problems. Congress knows what it doesn’t and can’t know when it drafts a statute; and Congress therefore gives an expert agency the power to address issues—even significant ones—as and when they arise. That is what Congress did in enacting Section 111. The majority today overrides that legislative choice. In so doing, it deprives EPA of the power needed—and the power granted—to curb the emission of greenhouse gases.

Where in the Constitution does either “major questions” or “non-delegation” reside? Well, nowhere exactly. It’s supposedly implicit in the separation of powers. Why either doctrine is more obvious than the right to privacy is lost on me.

What these doctrines are is a major power grab by the conservative court. No criteria defines what makes a law’s delegation of power too “unclear” or an agency’s regulation too “major” to be invalid under these doctrines. So basically it’s open season on regulations, and the Court can invalidate whichever ones it doesn’t like.

One observation about the EPA ruling: If Congress is supposed to authorize policy changes at a level that previously has been left to administrative agencies, then the Senate filibuster has to go. A filibuster-gridlocked Senate is not nimble enough to address the regulatory challenges of fast-changing fields like climate change or technology.

To me, that statement is independent of partisanship. If the Supreme Court is going to force Congress to take a more hands-on approach to governance, then Congress has to be able to pass legislation. If Republicans get control of Congress again, they will probably pass laws that I consider bad. But even that would be action that the public could see and respond to, maybe by electing better people to Congress. I have more faith in such a back-and-forth process than in the current nothing-can-be-done logjam, which is more likely to cause voters to give up in despair.

Ezra Klein raised a good point on his July 1 podcast (where he interviewed Kate Shaw, who is a law professor and has her own podcast “Strict Scrutiny”): If the conservative majority is serious about this new focus on history as the determining factor in its decisions, then the Court needs to have world-class historians on its staff, rather than just law clerks.

After all, the justices were not chosen for their historical expertise, and their clerks are recent law-school graduates who have probably never studied American history to any depth. That’s why the historical debates between the conservative rulings and the liberal dissents sound so amateurish on both sides. (Robert Spitzer disparaged Justice Scalia’s Heller decision — the granddaddy of originalist opinions and the model for Thomas’ majority opinion in Bruen — as “law office history“.)

When the current court does history, it’s as if the bankers at the Federal Reserve decided not to bother consulting economists, or using IT people to keep their computer models running. (“I’ve calculated on this napkin that we need to raise interest rates another half percent.”)

Of course, maybe that’s the point. Maybe the history lessons in the recent decisions aren’t intended to be accurate. Maybe they’re just stories that allow the conservative majority to justify whatever it wants to do.

and reaction to Roe’s reversal

Polls show abortion is rising as an election issue. A lot of pundits are calling on Democrats to make a clear commitment on the issue, more or less along the lines of the Republicans’ “Contract with America” in 1994. Being vaguely pro-choice and encouraging people to vote isn’t enough.

Josh Marshall (hardly a radical progressive) suggests this phrasing:

If the Democrats hold the House and add two Senators in November I will vote to pass a law making Roe’s protections the law nationwide and change the filibuster rules to guarantee that bill gets an up or down vote. And I will do that in January 2023.

As I mentioned in the Supreme Court note above, an ambitious and extremist Supreme Court means that the other branches of government have to step up and compete for power. If any vagueness in the laws is going to give this Court an opening it is eager to fill, then Congress has to be able to pass new laws as developments warrant. The filibuster absolutely has to go.

The Indianapolis Star reports that a 10-year-old girl who was six weeks and three days pregnant traveled to Indiana in order to get around Ohio’s six-week abortion ban. The girl was referred by a child-abuse doctor in Ohio.

Sunday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was questioned about her state’s abortion ban, which criminalizes any abortion not necessary to save a woman’s (or girl’s) life. Asked how that 10-year-old would fare in South Dakota, Noem dodged the question.

But the messiness of real life is why this issue isn’t going to go away by November. (Ten-year-olds do get pregnant. Some fetuses can’t be saved, and endanger their mothers without any upside. Some men will kill their girlfriends rather than take responsibility for a child.) There’s going to be a steady stream of cases where radical anti-abortion laws lead to results that the public isn’t going to like. It’s not going to be as simple as “save the babies”.

The satire site McSweeney’s takes on the we-will-adopt-your-baby offers from anti-abortion couples, by describing all the things the couples won’t adopt.

We want that baby when it’s nice and cute and fully formed, but we aren’t planning on adopting anything else. Obviously, we can’t adopt your morning sickness, so when you wake up at 5 a.m. to puke your guts out before work, and when you also puke your guts out at work in the employee bathroom, we won’t adopt that.

… Oh, and if you have a miscarriage and nearly bleed out in your bathroom before the paramedics can get to you? That part is not a tiny little chubby baby, so we won’t be adopting it.

One particularly annoying anti-abortion argument keeps popping up: What about the lost potential of the aborted fetus? The memes are like “What if that baby would have grown up to cure cancer?” or “What if they had aborted Jesus?”

I’ve begun responding to these by pointing to the lost potential of women who are thrown off their life path by an unplanned pregnancy. “It’s more likely that cancer would have been cured by a woman who had to leave medical school to raise an unwanted child.” Or “Maybe Mary could have saved the world herself if God hadn’t forced motherhood on her.”

and the pandemic

Numbers continue to be flat-ish, but to me they look ready for a jump upward after the holiday weekend. Cases are up 13% in the last two weeks, and deaths up 24%. More and more people I know are getting sick, and I wonder how many of their cases show up in the official statistics. I believe a lot of people with minor symptoms test positive at home and never enter the medical system.

and primaries

Tuesday’s primary elections brought mostly good news for democracy.

In Colorado, Republicans rejected candidates for governor and senator who claim Trump won the 2020 elections. The GOP Senate nominee largely supports reproductive rights, and defeated a candidate who wants to ban abortion nationally (and who was at the 1-6 rally). Republicans rejected a secretary of state candidate who is under indictment for tampering with voting machines in an attempt to prove one of Trump’s election-fraud theories.

Mississippi Republican Michael Guest was renominated for his House seat, in spite of his minor rebellion against Trump: He voted to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate 1-6, a measure that MAGA Republicans are probably sorry they torpedoed.

The more moderate candidate won the Republican nomination for governor in Illinois, though Rep. Mary Miller, the woman who last week declared the Dobbs decision “a victory for white life”, defeated a less Trumpy congressman in a newly formed district that forced two sitting representatives to face off. (The district includes my hometown.) Progressive candidates won Democratic nominations for Congress in two districts in the Chicago area.

Illinois was one state where Democrats tried to game the system by helping the more radical Republican in the gubernatorial primary, in the belief that such a candidate would be easier to beat. This is a dangerous practice, and I’m happy that it failed.

and Ukraine

Russia has captured Lysychansk, the last major city in Luhansk province.

With Luhansk Province now in hand, Russian forces can aim squarely southwest at the remaining Ukrainian-held parts of the neighboring province of Donetsk, the other territory that makes up the Donbas.

The Economist predicts Putin’s strategy:

You can see where Mr Putin is heading. He will take as much of Ukraine as he can, declare victory and then call on Western nations to impose his terms on Ukraine. In exchange, he will spare the rest of the world from ruin, hunger, cold and the threat of nuclear Armageddon.

and you also might be interested in …

The Brownshirts are out.

Dozens of white supremacists marched through Boston on Saturday. The group wore white masks and were seen boarding Orange Line trains at Haymarket Station. Some carried police shields and flags. They are members of a group called Patriot Front.

Gallup reports that only 81% of Americans say they believe in God, down from 87% in 2017, and the lowest number since Gallup started asking the question in 1944. That number looks likely to fall further, because the people least like to believe are the young: only 68% of adults ages 18-29.

In Florida, the other shoe is dropping. After raising public anger about largely imaginary liberal indoctrination through “critical race theory” or “grooming”, the DeSantis administration is instituting indoctrination of its own.

New civics training for Florida public school teachers comes with a dose of Christian dogma, some teachers say, and they worry that it also sanitizes history and promotes inaccuracies.

The Miami Herald:

Teachers who spoke to the Herald/Times said they don’t object to the state’s new standards for civics, but they do take issue with how the state wants them to be taught. “It was very skewed,” said Barbara Segal, a 12th-grade government teacher at Fort Lauderdale High School. “There was a very strong Christian fundamentalist way toward analyzing different quotes and different documents. That was concerning.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency is taking flak for considering changing the word “slavery” to “involuntary relocation” in the second-grade curriculum standards.

In Wisconsin, a novel about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II has been kicked out of the curriculum because it’s “unbalanced” and presents only one side of the issue. A parent in the district commented: “The other side is racism.”

and let’s close with something too small to work

In this age of miniaturization, smaller is often better. But once in a while the shrinking process goes too far. Well, it’s good to know that Nature also makes this mistake occasionally: Witness the pumpkin toadlet, a frog about the size of Skittle. It looks very froggish, but it doesn’t have that whole jumping thing down yet. I can’t explain why it’s so much fun to watch them try, but it just is.