The Monday Morning Teaser

During the Trump administration, news goes by too fast for most of us to deal with it. Again and again during the last two years, something happens that makes me say: “This is too much. This cannot stand.” But then, days or weeks later, some new outrage knocks the previous ones out of the public consciousness, and even out of my consciousness. (Last week, for example, Trump’s parroting of Saudi talking points reminded me of the way he parroted Russian talking points in Helsinki. When I looked up the references, I was shocked to realize that Helsinki was just three months ago. It seemed like I was dredging up ancient history.)

So I decided to go back through the last two years and collect the outrageous actions that should never be forgotten into a piece called “12 Things to Remember Before You Vote”. Putting it together, I was amazed at how much I had forgotten. Again and again, I thought, “Oh yeah. That happened.”

There’s still a bunch of work to do on that, so it probably doesn’t post until around 11 EDT.

The weekly summary has to cover a week full of right-wing political violence: the MAGA bomber, the racial shooting outside a Kroger’s in Kentucky, the massacre of worshipping Jews in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, right-wingers were trying to make a crisis out of a caravan of asylum-seekers coming up from Central America, and inventing outrageous lies about it. That should be out between noon and one.

We’ve got a week left to get everybody out to vote.

The Real Voter Fraud

Given that extensive and well-documented history, it’s ridiculous to keep claiming that voter fraud occurs on a scale large enough to tilt elections, yet is somehow undetectable by law enforcement. But people keep claiming it and believing it because by doing so, they can keep trying to justify efforts to put more and more hurdles in the way of potential voters and by doing so alter the outcome of elections. That is the true voter fraud.

– Jay Bookman, “The True Voting Fraud

This week’s featured post is “This is why the Founders banned Emoluments“.

This week everybody was talking about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

I focused on the Trump-administration-corruption angle in the featured post. But corruption is contagious. Trump allies in Congress and the media have been reacting as if Khashoggi were a young black man shot by police: They’re spreading negative rumors about him.

“Trump wants to take a soft line, so Trump supporters are finding excuses for him to take it,” said William Kristol, a conservative Trump critic. “One of those excuses is attacking the person who was murdered.”


The Khashoggi murder is the latest example of the corruption of Evangelical Christianity. Consider Pat Robertson:

“For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis — look, these people are key allies,” Robertson said. While he called the faith of the Wahabists — the hardline Islamist sect to which the Saudi Royal Family belongs — “obnoxious,” he urged viewers to remember that “we’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of…it’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.”

In short: Don’t worry about a little murder here and there if you can make some money selling weapons. As the Bible says: “He who lives by the sword is a good customer.” (I believe that’s in Paul’s Epistle to the Ferengi.)


In other Trump administration corruption: The new ambassador to South Africa is a Mar-a-Lago member. That means she wrote Trump a six-figure check to join and has paid fees every year since. She’ll be the fourth Mar-a-Lago member to become an ambassador. You gotta pay to play.

Ambassadorships have been sold before: They often go to big campaign contributors. What’s new in the Trump Era is that the money goes not to the Party or the Campaign, but straight into the President’s pocket.


While he was parroting Saudi rhetoric about Khashoggi, Trump was rallying in Montana with the GOP congressman who assaulted a reporter during his previous campaign. CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes:

even as we are dealing with an international incident revolving around the near-certain murder of a journalist by a government that didn’t like what he said and wrote about them, the President of the United States is praising a member of Congress who assaulted a journalist for asking him questions.

My take on this is that Trump envies MBS. If he could have a few reporters killed here and there, he believes he’d get much more favorable coverage.

and voter suppression

When your party represents a minority of the people, you need to keep people from voting if you want to hang onto power.

Kansas is deciding whether or not Kris Kobach, who basically has Mr. Voter Suppression as Kansas Secretary of State and as vice-chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, should become governor. But that election is already tainted.

Access to the ballot box in November will be more difficult for some people in Dodge City, where Hispanics now make up 60 percent of its population … [T]he city located 160 miles west of Wichita has only one polling site for its 27,000 residents. Since 2002, the lone site was at the civic center just blocks from the local country club — in the wealthy, white part of town. For this November’s election, local officials have moved it outside the city limits to a facility more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, citing road construction that blocked the previous site. …

A Democratic Party database compiled from state voter data shows Hispanic turnout during non-presidential elections is just 17 percent compared to 61 percent turnout for white voters in Ford County in 2014. Dodge City’s turnout is below the national turnout rate of 27 percent among Latino eligible voters in 2014, which in itself was a record low that year for the country, according to the Pew Research Center.


The Washington Post sums up the voter-suppression situation in Georgia, but buries some vital information deep in the article: “There is no evidence of wide-scale voter fraud in Georgia or elsewhere in the country.”

The Guardian goes deeper:

Under Georgia procedures, registered voters who have not cast ballots for three years are sent a notice asking them to confirm they still live at their address. If they don’t return it, they are marked inactive. If they don’t vote for two more general elections after that, they are removed from the rolls.

Georgia removed more than 534,000 voters that way in 2016 and 2017. Using databases employed by commercial mailing firms, analysts commissioned by [the Palast Investigative Fund] found that 334,134 of those citizens actually still live at the address they registered.

Greg Palast elaborates:

Their registration is cancelled. Not pending, not inactive – cancelled. If they show up to vote on 6 November, they will not be allowed to vote. That’s wrong. We can prove they’re still there. They should be allowed to vote.

A similar program has removed 55K voters from the rolls in the 3rd congressional district of Alabama since February, 2017.


North Dakota has a new law that requires you to present ID when you vote. The ID has to include your street address. But there’s a problem:

Many people on Native American reservations don’t have residential addresses; they use P.O. boxes, and that’s not enough at the polls anymore. Native Americans are about 5 percent of North Dakota’s 750,000 residents, and according to the Native American Rights Fund, they’re more than twice as likely as other voters to lack a form of identification acceptable under the new law.

Curiously, there seems to be no law anywhere that disproportionately makes it harder for upper-class white people to vote.

and Elizabeth Warren

I’m struck by how the trajectory of the Pocahontas-slur story is following the Birther myth about Obama. First it was supposed to be a scandal that Obama hadn’t released his birth certificate (which presidential candidates almost never have done in the past). Then he did, and it was the wrong kind of certificate, the short form rather than the long form. Then he released the long form, and there were conspiracy theories about how it was a forgery. When those claims didn’t take off, the scandal was that he wouldn’t release his college transcripts.

Haters gonna hate; no matter what Obama did, the charge that he was hiding something about himself just wouldn’t die. When one form of it was debunked, it just shifted into some other form.

Same thing with Warren. The original charge was that her claim of Native American ancestry was an affirmative-action fraud to advance her career. Then the Boston Globe investigated and found that, no, she hadn’t gotten any of her law-school professorships by claiming to be a Native American; in fact, the people who hired her didn’t know anything about that.

Then the charge morphed into a more general she-lied-about-who-she-is claim, and Trump dared her to take a DNA test. Now she’s taken the test, which supports her claim (and Trump now says he never offered to give her favorite charity $1 million if that happened). (BTW: The assertion in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that she has a typical amount of Native American DNA for European-Americans was debunked by the science journalist the article quoted.)

So now she’s supposedly misusing DNA tests, because being a Native American depends on tribal membership. I sympathize with the underlying point, when it’s being made by actual Native Americans and not opportunistic Republicans (who in other venues are trying to stop Native Americans from voting): You shouldn’t get to claim some share of the centuries-long suffering of oppressed peoples just because you had some distant ancestor nobody would ever know about if you didn’t tell them. (Suppose, for example, that my DNA test turned up some Jewish ancestry in addition to the Germans I know about. That lab result wouldn’t entitle me to a share of the victimhood of the Holocaust.)

But I don’t see what that point has to do with Warren, who simply has been telling her family’s stories without staking any claims on them. I’ve been listening to Warren’s speeches since she got into politics, and I have never heard her claim victimhood as a descendant of Native Americans, or urge people to vote for her because she’s Native American. Her heritage comes up in campaigns because her opponents bring it up.

The other day I challenged somebody on Facebook who claimed Warren benefited from claiming Native American ancestry, and in response  I got a reference to a Boston Herald story from 1996 saying that Harvard (not Warren) answered criticism about its diversity by quoting statistics that counted her as a Native American. That’s what the issue has shrunk to.

So the goal posts keep moving, as the Warren-haters stretch to find anything they can use as a reason to hate her.

but this strikes me as important

Eight Stories of Men’s Regrets” in Thursday’s New York Times.

A few weeks ago in “Two Ways Brett Kavanaugh Could Be a Hero“, I indulged in a fantasy where Kavanaugh confessed and apologized — or at the very least admitted that he did have a high school drinking problem and may have done things he doesn’t remember —  allowing the nation to have an honest discussion about whether he should still be held accountable for what he did when he was 17. We were having that conversation anyway, after all, but his continuing denials made it unserious in some fundamental way.

That honest public debate would be a step in the direction of healing the wounds that the #MeToo movement has revealed. However it came out — whether Kavanaugh ascended to the Supreme Court, remained where he is, or left public life entirely — it would be a service to the nation.

In a sermon “Men and #MeToo” that I gave September 30 at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois, I hit that point a little harder

Male shame has been the missing piece of the #MeToo phenomenon. When the #MeToo hashtag went viral almost exactly a year ago, what was shocking about it wasn’t any particular story of some man harassing or assaulting some woman. It was that almost every woman seemed to have a story to tell. Almost every woman had some direct experience that put her on her guard, that made her feel unsettled or insecure in a way that men have a hard time imagining.

What was eye-opening to men was to look around and realize that the women in their own lives – their friends and wives and mothers and sisters and daughters – had stories to tell. But very few men took the next step, and recognized that this can’t just be the work of a few bad men in ski masks. It has to be some large percentage of the male population.

And if President Trump’s defenders are right, that his bragging about all the sexual assaults he’s committed is just “locker room talk”, then millions and millions of men must have been in those locker rooms, talking like that, or approving of such talk, or at the very least letting it go by without comment. Where are the tweets of all those confessions? Where is that sense of shame about that?

What’s really needed, I think, to complete the #MeToo movement, is for men to confess and express our shame about what we’ve done or watched being done or allowed other men to do.

Somebody at The New York Times must have had the same thought.

and you also might be interested in …

Trump is pulling out of a nuclear treaty that Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987. He’s also threatening to pull out of the Universal Postal Union Treaty, which goes back to the Grant administration. (Seriously. We joined the UPU in 1875.) Vox explains what the UPU does and what Trump has against it.

You have to wonder if we’ll have any treaties at all by the time Trump leaves office.


The administration is also working on a sweeping plan to deal with transgender folk: Change the definitions so that they don’t exist any more! I want to make some snide suggestions about the groups they’ll want to define away next, but my sarcasm is failing me.


Mitch McConnell has finally noticed the rising federal deficit, but ignores what caused it: the massive tax cut for the rich that he passed last year. Here’s his comment:

[The deficit is] very disturbing, and it’s driven by the three big entitlement programs that are very popular: Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. That’s 70 percent of what we spend every year. There’s been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully at some point here we’ll get serious about this.

This opens an I-told-you-so opportunity too big for me to pass up. From the 10-2-2017 Weekly Sift:

For decades now, Republicans have been dancing a two-step on taxes and spending:

  1. Cut taxes a little bit for most people and hugely for the very rich, promising that economic growth will make up the lost revenue.
  2. When the lost revenue stays lost, claim that the resulting deficits are an existential threat to the Republic, necessitating previously unthinkable spending cuts.

The result of the two-step is a set of policies that could never pass as a unit. …

The rhetoric selling the idea of the [tax cut] has been populist, but the actual bill will be elitist: The rich will profit, the middle class will get a pittance (probably only temporarily), and the deficit will skyrocket. That will set up new “emergency” proposals to slash benefits the middle class would never have agreed to sacrifice to the rich, if the tax cuts hadn’t created an artificial budget “emergency”.

Not that this prediction required brilliant insight. As Paul Krugman put it Thursday:

Any political analyst who didn’t see this coming should find a different profession. After all, “starve the beast” — cut taxes on the rich, then use the resulting deficits as an excuse to hack away at the safety net — has been G.O.P. strategy for decades.


Krugman goes on to point out something else: Paul Ryan’s superPAC is airing ads accusing Democrats of wanting to cut Medicare, as if Republicans were Medicare’s protectors. But it gets worse: Dean Heller, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz

voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which protects Americans with pre-existing medical conditions, or supported a lawsuit trying to strip that protection out of the act, and are now running on the claim that they want to … protect people with pre-existing conditions.

The point is that we’re now in a political campaign where one side’s claimed position on every major policy issue is the opposite of its true position.


When Trump referred to Stormy Daniels as “Horseface“, I thought: “Dude, you’re the one who had sex with her.”


During Trump’s recent 60 Minutes interview, we got a glimpse of this painting, showing Trump hanging out with previous Republican presidents:

In the Age of Photoshop, you knew what had to happen. People just couldn’t keep their hands off. Here’s my favorite fix: Trump hanging around with other abusers of women (though I wish they hadn’t left Lincoln in).

This one was pretty good too:


Russian interference in our political process continues. This week we learned of a new criminal complaint filed against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova.

So who is Khusyaynova? According to the government, she has been employed by a constellation of limited-liability companies linked to Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin—whose companies are said to have funded the IRA troll farm—and she has worked for the chief accountant of an overarching Russian influence campaign known as “Project Lakhta” since around April 2014.

And the conspiracy didn’t end when Trump was elected. It continues.

In total, the government alleges, Khusyaynova’s reports reveal that the project spent more than $35 million between January 2016 and June 2018, according to the complaint. From January to June 2018 alone, Concord records reveal more than $60,000 in spending on Facebook advertising, $6,000 on Instagram advertising, and $18,000 on “bloggers,” the complaint alleges.

and let’s close with something old made new

James Corden helps Alanis Morissette update “Ironic”.

This is why the Founders banned emoluments

If Congress were doing its job, we wouldn’t have to wonder who the President is working for.


Remember Helsinki?

It was just three months ago, in July. The President of the United States stood on a stage with Vladimir Putin and was abjectly subservient to him. On the subject of Russian interference in the 2016 election, he weighed the unanimous opinion of US intelligence agencies against Putin’s denial and sided with the foreign autocrat. Putin’s other bad behavior — the ongoing proxy war against Ukraine, poisoning of critics in the UK, human-rights abuses at home — led to nary a whisper of criticism from the supposed Leader of the Free World. Trump blamed “both sides” for the poor state of US/Russian relations, and in a subsequent interview, he questioned whether the US would really go to war to defend a NATO ally like Montegnegro from Russian aggression.

If there had been any doubt that Trump was in Putin’s pocket, Helsinki ended it.

This week we saw something similar happen with Saudi Arabia.

The shifting Saudi explanations. In the weeks since the expatriate Saudi journalist (and Virginia resident and Washington Post contributor) Jamal Khashoggi disappeared into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, the Saudi Arabian government has put out a series of narratives, each as preposterous as the last.

  • First they claimed Khashoggi left the consulate alive (and yet somehow evaded the Turkish cameras that saw him enter). Saudi officials even expressed concern about his well-being and said they were trying to find him.
  • When the Turkish government published the names and images of the Saudi agents who came to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi, the Saudis denounced “baseless allegations”. They threatened to respond to any international action against them “with a bigger one“.
  • Then they allowed that Khashoggi might be dead, but if so, it was the work of “rogue killers” who somehow murdered him inside the consulate and disposed of his body without any legitimate Saudi officials noticing.
  • The latest story is that the killing was essentially an accident: The Saudis just wanted to “return” Khashoggi to the Kingdom, i.e. kidnap him. But he struggled, one of the kidnappers got him in a chokehold, and he died. The body was then disposed of by a “local collaborator”, so the Saudis don’t know what happened to it.

Above all, the narratives insist that whatever was done to Khashoggi had nothing to do with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), who Khashoggi had been especially critical of, and whose known associates seem to be the murderers.

The Trump echo chamber. Through this all, Trump has been giving his best Helsinki performance, repeating Saudi talking points as if he were working for them and not for us. King Salman’s denial of involvement, he said, was “very, very strong“. (In Helsinki, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”) “Maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?” (“Who knows?” is also a standard element when Trump wants to defend someone. He projects a reality where it’s impossible to know anything and all scenarios are equally likely. The hacker who hit the DNC computers “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?“) He compared MBS to Brett Kavanaugh, who (in Trump’s mind) was also wrongly accused.

In an interview with The Washington Post Saturday, Trump backed off only a little, acknowledging that the Saudi government’s stories “are all over the place”, but standing by MBS and continuing to repeat the latest Saudi talking points, without worrying about the now-abandoned talking points he repeated only a few days ago.

There is a possibility [MBS] found out about it afterward. It could be something in the building went badly awry. It could be that’s when he found about it. He could have known they were bringing him back to Saudi Arabia.

and insisting that there’s no way to really know.

Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point. I haven’t heard either way.

Why? After Helsinki, Americans were left to wonder what exactly had turned Trump into such a puppet. Does Putin have kompromat to hold over his head? Is Trump paying his debt from 2016? Or does the debt go back further, to the Russian money that had come to Trump’s rescue when no one else would fund him? The explanations were suggestive, but still speculative.

This time, though, we don’t have to speculate, because Trump has told us himself:

“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million,” Trump told a crowd at an Alabama campaign rally in 2015. “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

Trump has downplayed his conflict of interest, tweeting: “I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.” But Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington points out how misleading that denial is: Saudi money still makes its way into his pocket, whether his interests are “in” Saudi Arabia or not.

In 2017, Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 to reserve rooms at Trump’s hotel in Washington. The kingdom itself paid $4.5 million in 2001 to purchase a floor of Trump World Tower and continues to pay tens of thousands in annual common charges to Trump businesses for that property (the total of which could be up to $5.7 million since 2001, according to one estimate). In the past year, as bookings fell overall, Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago reported a significant uptick in bookings from Saudi Arabia. And a major factor in a recent increase in revenue for the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan was that Saudis accompanying the crown prince during a recent visit stayed there, as The Washington Post has reported.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s point man for the Middle East and someone MBS has described as “in my pocket“, has also often sought Saudi funding for his real estate ventures.

Trump has tried to paint his own mercenary interests as the nation’s mercenary interests, weaving together a fanciful story of a $110 billion arms order that will create American jobs. But the money Trump has received (and continues to receive) is real.

He has also tried to paint the Saudis as allies that we must stand by (as a counterweight to Iran). But Trump freely criticizes more important allies, like Canada and the other NATO countries. And Senator Lindsey Graham, who is also an Iran hawk, isn’t protecting MBS. The Saudis, he says, “need us more than we need them”.

This is the most in-your-face move by a Mideast ally outside — maybe ever. To kill a man in a consulate in a foreign country, extrajudicial killing, shows contempt for the relationship. I would like to punish those involved. The Global Magnitsky Act would put punishment, sanctions on the individuals that had a hand in this.

And I find it impossible to believe that the crown prince wasn’t involved. So, go after him and his inner circle. Save the alliance. I don’t mind military sales, but I cannot do business with the current leadership. MBS, he’s done to me.

Emoluments and Congress. Even if you find the support-our-arms-customer or support-our-ally-against-Iran motives credible, you will never be sure that Trump’s real motive isn’t to keep raking in Saudi cash. Trump himself may not know for sure which motive is most compelling.

That’s why the Founders put this clause into the Constitution:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

This is not an innocent-until-proven-guilty thing: No one needs to prove that an officer of the United States government has engaged in quid-pro-quo bribery with a foreign power. It’s not necessary to identify precisely what the officer did for the foreign power, that the action wouldn’t have been done anyway, or that the gift or payment he or she received wasn’t totally innocent. What matters is only that the emolument was paid.

The point is clear: The loyalty of officers of the US government needs to be beyond question.

As the clause says, the only thing that makes an emolument legal is “the Consent of Congress”. (In a famous motivating case, Congress allowed Benjamin Franklin to keep a jewel-encrusted snuff box he was given by the King of France.) Congress is supposed to police this concern. But the current Republican majority simply does not want to know whether Trump is doing anything wrong. It has not passed any resolution consenting to the money Trump’s businesses receive from the Saudis or any other foreign government. Neither has it condemned these emoluments, or even held hearings on them. It just doesn’t want to know.

Stymied from taking any direct action, Democrats in Congress have signed on to a lawsuit attempting to enforce the Emoluments Clause through the federal courts. That case is moving forward, and a judge recently agreed that they have standing to sue. But this lengthy legal process is a far cry from the checks and balances the Founders imagined.

Remember in November. There are many different reasons to want a change of leadership in Congress. (I’ll outline a number of them next week.) But for the long-term health of the Republic, the biggest is that Congress has a constitutional role to play, and it is failing in that role. Blatantly unconstitutional things are happening in the Trump administration, while Congress averts its eyes.

It should be a bipartisan desire that the President work for the American people, and not for foreign princes or presidents. The fact that even this most basic issue has become partisan is a measure of just how far the Republican Party has fallen.

The Monday Morning Teaser

It’s not hard to pick out the biggest story this week: Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and the continuing Saudi cover-up. What’s harder is getting past the reaction of “What do you expect? It’s Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis still behead people, the ruling family is famously corrupt, and it’s considered major progress that women can drive now. Human rights, especially freedom of speech and freedom of the press, are not their strong suit. In the face of everything else that’s going on in the world, why should you care that the Saudis murdered a journalist, even if he has been living in Virginia this past year and was a contributing columnist for The Washington Post?

What hit me about the story, though, was that it led to a second Helsinki moment: All week, the President of the United States kept repeating the talking points of some other country, as if he worked for them and not for us.

In Helsinki — only three months ago, can you believe that? — Trump left Americans to wonder exactly what he owed Vladimir Putin, or what kompromot Putin was holding over his head. This week, though, we knew the reason for Trump’s unpresidential behavior, because he had told us himself: The Saudis buy a lot of stuff from the Trump Organization. Trump was reacting to the Khashoggi scandal primarily as a private businessman, not as a public servant.

So this week’s featured article is “This is why the Founders banned emoluments”. It should post between 10 and 11 EDT. The weekly summary will discuss Khashoggi, but also voter suppression, Elizabeth Warren, Mitch McConnell’s predictable plan to deal with the deficit he caused, some treaties Trump wants to pull out of (including one that goes back to the Grant administration), and a few other things, before closing with the James Korden/ Alanis Morissette update of “Ironic”. It should be out around noon.

Pace and Scale

While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to 1.5°C can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way.

— The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Global Warming of 1.5°C

This week’s featured post is “The Media is Failing Us on Climate Change“.

This week everybody was talking about the weather

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle Wednesday as yet another “worst storm in 100 years“. These days, several places in the US each year have their worst storms in living memory. Michael was the fourth strongest storm to hit the US. You’d think people would start to notice.

Federal help seems slow to arrive.

Since the storm, there’s been no electricity and no water in Panama City. Emergency disaster relief was yet to be seen in strength as of Saturday morning and residents were growing more frustrated and desperate. Chantelle Goolspy sat in her car making phone calls to get help. Goolspy and many of her neighbors live in a public housing area in downtown Panama City that was badly devastated.

“We’re in need of food, water, anything, we’re not getting any help. The whole street needs help,” Goolspy told the Red Cross. “FEMA referred me to you. That person told me to call 211.”

One reason Michael did as much damage as it did was that it went through “rapid intensification” as it approached land, going from Category 1 to Category 4 (and nearly Category 5) in just 24 hours.

Climate scientists have begun to focus on hurricane rapid intensification as an increasingly prevalent feature in the world we’re entering. Simply put, with warmer seas, storms ought to be able to pull this off more often.

In a recent study in the Journal of Climate, researchers found more rapid intensifications in a simulation of a human-warmed world, and also that this would prove a key pathway toward more intense hurricanes in general.

As usual, it’s impossible to blame any particular storm on global warming, just as it’s impossible to blame any particular lung cancer on tobacco or any particular home run on steroids. It’s a systemic factor that increases risks.

and a missing journalist

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who had been living in Virginia and writing for The Washington Post, disappeared October 2. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It’s widely believed that the Saudis murdered him inside the consulate.

This has become an international incident involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. At first, President Trump expressed his usual disregard for non-citizen residents of the United States. An incident like this isn’t worth interrupting, say, arms sales:

This took place in Turkey and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen, he’s a permanent resident. We don’t like it, even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion dollars from being spent in this country, knowing they [Saudi Arabia] have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.

His further responses have resembled his reactions Russian interference in the 2016 election: He spoke to King Salman, who denied murdering Khashoggi, and Trump seems inclined to take him at his word (as he takes Putin). He repeated the Saudis “rogue killers” theory, which is a little like Trump’s fantasy of the 400-pound guy who hacked the DNC.

and the midterm elections

The Georgia governor’s election is a coin flip at this point, but Republican candidate Brian Kemp has a special advantage: He’s Secretary of State, and his office maintains the voting rolls.

Marsha Appling-Nunez was showing the college students she teaches how to check online if they’re registered to vote when she made a troubling discovery. Despite being an active Georgia voter who had cast ballots in recent elections, she was no longer registered.

“I was kind of shocked,” said Appling-Nunez, who moved from one Atlanta suburb to another in May and believed she had successfully changed her address on the voter rolls. “I’ve always voted. I try to not miss any elections, including local ones,” Appling-Nunez said.

She tried re-registering, but with about one month left before a November election that will decide a governor’s race and some competitive U.S. House races, Appling-Nunez’s application is one of over 53,000 sitting on hold with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office. And unlike Appling-Nunez, many people on that list — which is predominantly black, according to an analysis by The Associated Press — may not even know their voter registration has been held up.

The 53K would-be voters are about 70% black. Civil rights groups are suing.


Saturday, Senator David Perdue was campaigning for Kemp at Georgia Tech when a student tried to ask him about suppressing black votes. Perdue took his phone, then returned it and walked away.


The generic-ballot polls are going the way I expected: Republicans got a brief advantage by riling up their base over the Kavanaugh hearings. But that’s already fading while the Democratic anger is sustained.

but the ongoing sabotage of ObamaCare deserves your attention

In August, HHS issued a set of regulations to allow short-term health insurance policies that don’t meet the ACA minimum standards. The plans are as short as a year, and can be renewed for up to three years. But they have two big loopholes:

  • They don’t have to cover all the stuff ACA plans do.
  • If you do get sick, after three years, the insurance company can refuse to renew your policy, leaving you with a pre-existing condition and no insurance until the next ObamaCare open-enrollment date.

The upside of the policies is that they cost less — because companies don’t have to issue them to people with pre-existing conditions.

The essence of the idea here is to rob Peter to pay Paul. Paul, in this case, is a healthy person who

  • makes just slightly too much money to qualify for the subsidies in ObamaCare, or
  • lives in one of the states that still refuses to expand Medicaid and falls into the “Medicaid coverage gap“, making him ineligible for either Medicaid or the ACA subsidies.

In either case, the ACA required Paul to spend a serious chunk of his own money on health insurance that he believed (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) he wouldn’t need.

One provision of the Trump Tax plan passed last year is that Paul can go uninsured without paying a penalty. But under the new regulations, Paul can buy a short-term plan that covers him against the things he might worry about (like a broken leg), but not pay as much as an ACA plan costs. If he develops MS or some other expensive long-term condition, he’ll be in trouble, but he’s willing to take that risk, if it means that he’ll have thousands of dollars each year to spend on something else.

Peter is everybody else, but especially people with pre-existing conditions. Promoters of the short-term plans say that they just provide consumers with more options: If you want ACA-compliant insurance, you can still buy it. But that’s deceptive, because ACA-compliant plans will become more expensive as more and more healthy people leave the risk pool.

HHS projects that 500,000 people will shift from individual market plans to short-term plans in 2019 as a result of the proposed rule. … And by 2028, they expect the total increase in the short-term insurance population to reach 1.4 million, while the individual insurance market population is expected to decline by 1.3 million over that time. … HHS acknowledged that the people who are likely to switch to short-term plans will primarily be young and healthy. As a result of the sicker, older risk pool that will remain in the individual market, premiums will rise

The way that ObamaCare can ultimately fail is if it gets into what is called a “death spiral”: As premiums rise, more healthy people decide to risk going without ACA-compliant insurance, making the risk pool sicker and forcing premiums to go higher yet.

Ever since ObamaCare passed in 2010, Republicans have been trying to push it into that death spiral. It began with the 5-4 Supreme Court decision (written by Chief Justice Roberts) that let states opt out of Medicaid expansion, creating the Medicaid coverage gap. A series of additional court cases created doubt about the program, discouraging people from signing up. The Koch brothers spent millions of dollars on ads that further discouraged sign-ups. They prevented states from setting up exchanges, forcing that duty onto the federal government. They eliminated provisions like risk corridors that kept premiums down.

Since Trump took office, the sabotage has gotten worse. HHS has refused to spend money to promote ObamaCare by, for example, telling people when the enrollment periods are. Cost-sharing reductions are gone, further increasing premiums. The tax bill eliminated the penalty for going uninsured, motivating the healthiest people to leave the risk pool. And now, healthy people will have even more incentive to leave.

and so does the return of Iran sanctions

Trump announced on May 8 that the US was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. The serious effects of that decision will hit on November 4, when economic sanctions resume. NYT editorial board member Carol Giacomo writes a critical analysis.

The main difference between these sanctions and the ones that pushed Iran to negotiate with the Obama administration is that this time the US is going it alone.

Crucially, Mr. Trump has failed to enlist Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — the major powers that joined the United States in negotiating the nuclear deal — in his anti-Iran crusade. The Europeans say the deal is in their national security interest; they resent that Mr. Trump has unilaterally upended it.

And now the Europeans are trying to save it by developing a financial mechanism that would skirt American sanctions by enabling their companies to trade oil in local currencies or barter rather than in dollars. The aim is to create an alternative way to move money in and out of Iran when Western banks, handcuffed by Mr. Trump’s sanctions, won’t do it.

All the parties face a moment of truth after Nov. 4, when, Mr. Trump has decreed, any country or company trading with Iran will be barred from doing transactions with American financial institutions.

On one hand, you have to wonder how effective these US-only sanctions will be, and whether the Iranian public will respond by revolting against its current government or rallying around it.

But I worry about this move for reasons that go way beyond Iran.

At its root, banking is about trust. The US dominates the international banking system largely because other countries and their citizens trust the soundness of the dollar and the rule of law that protects their dollar-denominated transactions. But nothing forces other countries into our system, and if we push that advantage too far, they’ll eventually create an alternative. In particular, we should be wary of any issue, like this one, that gives Europe and China a common cause against us.

Remember the larger picture: The Chinese economy is still far behind the US economy in a per capita sense, but in sheer size it is rapidly catching up and most likely will pass us in just a few years. In the long run, power follows money. So our long-term challenge is to use our waning power to construct a global system that is capable of constraining China when it eventually becomes the world’s most powerful country.

The worst thing that we can do in this situation is to wield our power in an arbitrary and self-centered way, making our former allies yearn for the day when we get pushed off our perch.

and you also might be interested in …

The US trade deficit with China set a record in September.


CNN’s way-too-early poll shows Joe Biden as the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. I’m skeptical. Nate Silver, though, seems skeptical of my skepticism:

Hard to take these early polls seriously after they predicted that Hillary Clinton (!) and Donald Trump (!!) would be the party nominees in 2016.


Meanwhile Elizabeth Warren is taking on the “Pocahontas” issue.


Lynzy Lab has the perfect answer to those guys worried about false accusations.


Explanations of how Republican policies benefit the 1% are always more convincing when they come from members of the 1%, like Abigail Disney, Walt’s granddaughter. Illustrating the recent tax cut with footage from Scrooge McDuck was maybe just a little bit over the top, but I enjoyed it. Or, you could illustrate it with this graph from the Center for American Progress:


Sears Holding Company, which owns both Sears and K-Mart, is declaring bankruptcy. Once the dominant retailer in the country, Sears has lost $11.7 billion since its last profitable year in 2010. The New York Times has a lengthy obituary.


The NYT expose of how Trump got rich — by inheritance and evasion of taxes — raised a question: Some of what the Trump family did was legal and some illegal; which is the most scandalous?

It’s personally scandalous to do something illegal, but to the extent that the manipulations the Trumps pulled off are actually legal, or at the very least broadly accepted, that’s scandalous in a different way. Matt Taibbi explores that angle:

The parts I found most interesting were less about the rapaciousness of the Trump family per se than the myriad opportunities for gaming the system one presumes is available to everyone of this income level. The ordinary person cannot hire an outside appraiser to tell the IRS what it thinks he or she is worth, but the Trumps could systematically undervalue their properties for tax purposes (and then go back and overvalue them when it served their public relations needs).

The timidity that enforcement officials show toward the very wealthy is also a running theme in the story. When the Trump family claimed a $17.9 million building had fallen to $2.9 million, supposedly losing 83 percent of its value in just 18 days, the IRS auditor who caught it made them push the value back up by just $100,000.

The infamous $3.35 million casino chip scheme — an illegal multi-million-dollar loan under New Jersey law — inspired just a $65,000 fine.

And now the NYT finds that Jared Kushner also paid little-to-no tax over an 8-year period when his net worth was skyrocketing. Here the main avenue was a common (and legal) real-estate scam involving depreciation.

In theory, the depreciation provision is supposed to shield real estate developers from having their investments whittled away by wear and tear on their buildings. In practice, though, the allowance often represents a lucrative giveaway to developers like Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner. The law assumes that buildings’ values decline every year when, in reality, they often gain value. Its enormous flexibility allows real estate investors to determine their own tax bills.

Ending the shennigans of the very rich was a big chunk of what Trump ran on in 2016. The system was rigged against ordinary people, he claimed, and he was just the guy to fix it.

The Trump tax cuts are fully paid for by: 1. Reducing or eliminating most deductions and loopholes available to the very rich.

He bragged that his business experience made him the perfect person to un-rig the tax system, because “I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA.” As late as November of last year, he made this 4-Pinocchio claim at a rally in St. Charles, Missouri:

This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me. . . . I think my accountants are going crazy right now.

But of course, that’s not what happened.

“The Trump administration was in a position to clean up the tax code and promised to get rid of some of the complexity that certain taxpayers use to their advantage,” said Victor Fleischer, a tax law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Instead, they doubled down on those provisions, particularly the ones they have familiarity with to benefit themselves.”

and let’s close with something out of this world

Here’s what a category 4 hurricane looks like from space.

The Media is Failing Us on Climate Change

What you’ve heard about the new IPCC report is highly misleading.


A week ago, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report “Global Warming of 1.5o C” came out, we got more than a lesson on climate change. We also got a lesson in what’s wrong with mainstream media coverage of climate change.

CNN’s headline was typical: “Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn“. The corresponding article had all the standard elements of climate-change coverage: a collection of threats (hotter heat waves, more extreme rainfall, more intense droughts, coral reefs dying off), a date when they’ll come due (2030), and a list of things the experts want done to avoid them (move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and develop technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere).

The problem with that article isn’t that it misstated any facts. But framing the situation in that way makes scientists sound like comic-book terrorists: “Do what we want by our deadline or the Earth is finished.”

The usual coverage invites the usual responses from those committed to denial, like this one from National Review:

Those working to raise awareness about climate change have a problem. While most Americans believe global warming is occurring and think human activities are causing it, fewer than half think it will pose a serious threat to the planet in their lifetimes.

So what do those seeking drastic change do? They publish predictions of imminent catastrophe based on computer models, threatening doom and gloom unless dramatic measures are taken immediately. When that fails, they change the deadline and try again. … Now the IPCC tells us we have until 2030, but the longer period to take action is accompanied by heightened predictions of calamities.

How the report comes to be. When you tell the story of the report from the beginning, though, it actually isn’t anything like that.

The story starts in Paris in December, 2015, when 195 nations made commitments to take action against climate change. (The US was one of the 195, but President Trump renounced the agreement in June, 2017.) The Paris Agreement recognized that global warming of 2o C above pre-industrial levels would have unacceptable consequences, and instead set a goal of trying to keep the increase down to 1.5o C. The report’s FAQ says:

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] invited the IPCC to provide a Special Report in 2018 on ‘the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emissions pathways’. The request was that the report, known as SR1.5, should not only assess what a 1.5°C warmer world would look like but also the different pathways by which global temperature rise could be limited to 1.5°C.

This report addresses that goal from two sides: What would the world have to do to meet the goal? And how much damage will the climate and the biosphere suffer even if we do?

Global warming is not a bomb. The biggest problem with the usual climate-change media coverage is that our standard metaphor for a future crisis — a ticking bomb — is completely wrong. Climate change is not something that will happen all at once at some point in the future; its negative effects won’t “go off” when some timer ticks down to zero. Instead, climate change is a process we are already in the middle of; negative effects — like this week’s devastation of the Florida panhandle — are already happening.

A better analogy might be smoking. Imagine you’re a heavy-smoking 25-year-old. You’re probably already seeing some effects: You get winded more easily, climbing stairs is harder, and so on. But you can live with that. Then your doctor tells you that if you keep smoking, your odds of dying before you’re 60 go up by X per cent. It might be a heart attack or lung cancer or something else, but your odds of dying go up.

Notice what he didn’t say: He didn’t say that you have until you’re 60 to change your ways. Age 60 is a somewhat arbitrary reference point that makes the situation quantifiable. The direst consequences of your smoking may hit when you’re 60, or sometime before or after that. In the meantime, the lesser effects you’ve already been seeing will get worse. And there’s a time lag: The cigarette you smoke tomorrow might (or might not) be the one that gives you cancer when you’re 57. Quitting before the cancer hits doesn’t mean it won’t hit.

On the other hand, if you quit now and exercise to get your wind back, your heart will likely regain its strength and your lungs might clear themselves out before anything happens that is significantly worse than the effects you can already see.

Climate change is like that; there are time lags all over the place. Every time a new investment is made in fossil fuel infrastructure — a new coal mine, a new oil well, a new pipeline — that’s an economic commitment to keep burning fossil fuels far into the future. And once a molecule of CO2 (or some other greenhouse gas) gets into the atmosphere, it’s likely to stay there for a long time. Yale Climate Connections reports on what would happen to the CO2 in the atmosphere if we went cold turkey on fossil fuels.

Using a combination of various methods, researchers have estimated that about 50 percent of the net anthropogenic pulse would be absorbed in the first 50 years, and about 70 percent in the first 100 years. Absorption by sinks slows dramatically after that, with an additional 10 percent or so being removed after 300 years and the remaining 20 percent lasting tens if not hundreds of thousands of years before being removed.

Putting that another way, emissions from the Model T’s of the 1920s are still affecting the climate today. About half of the CO2 I produced while driving to the grocery yesterday will still be warming the planet in 2068.

Some effects have longer time lags than others. If we manage to stabilize the climate at some level, for example, the heat waves and droughts might stabilize as well, and the world could adjust to a new normal in that regard. But if that stabilizing point is too high, the melting of the world’s ice might continue for some while and sea levels would keep rising.

So we don’t have until 2030 to change our ways. The whole notion that we have until the Year Y to take action completely misses the point.

Where we are in the process. The first thing the IPCC had to do was define its reference points. Like: What does “pre-industrial levels” mean? It settled on 1850-1900, which may seem a little late, given how much coal-burning industry already existed in 1850. The FAQ explains that the reference point had to be an era with temperature measurements from all over the world. (Picking an earlier period, like the 1750s, would mean using mainly European data. The results might get biased by purely local effects.) The FAQ picks up the story there:

In the decade 2006–2015, warming reached 0.87°C (±0.12°C) relative to 1850–1900, predominantly due to human activity increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Given that global temperature is currently rising by 0.2°C (±0.1°C) per decade, human-induced warming reached 1°C above pre-industrial levels around 2017 and, if this pace of warming continues, would reach 1.5°C around 2040.

But don’t forget Paris. Every major nation in the world (but the US) has made a commitment to emit less carbon than it otherwise would have. Those commitments were voluntary, based more on what the local politics could sustain rather than what the problem required. (Apparently, US politics can’t sustain any action at all, so Trump pulled out of the agreement rather than revise our commitments under it.)

Different groups of researchers around the world have analysed the combined effect of adding up all the NDCs [nationally defined contributions under the Paris Agreement]. Such analyses show that current pledges are not on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. If current pledges for 2030 are achieved but no more, researchers find very few (if any) ways to reduce emissions after 2030 sufficiently quickly to limit warming to 1.5°C. This, in turn, suggests that with the national pledges as they stand, warming would exceed 1.5°C, at least for a period of time, and practices and technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere at a global scale would be required to return warming to 1.5°C at a later date.

Plans to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the report notes, have not scaled up well so far. (It’s easier to plant a tree than to regrow a forest.) So relying on them is speculative; maybe something practical will develop and maybe it won’t.

One example of a [carbon dioxide removal] method in the demonstration phase is a process known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), in which atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by plants and trees as they grow, and then the plant material (biomass) is burned to produce bioenergy. The CO2 released in the production of bioenergy is captured before it reaches the atmosphere and stored in geological formations deep underground on very long timescales. Since the plants absorb CO2 as they grow and the process does not emit CO2, the overall effect can be to reduce atmospheric CO2.

Given the time lags involved in reducing CO2 through natural means, though, if we blow through the 1.5°C mark the only practical way to get back to it in any reasonable length of time involves some kind of CO2 removal process, or “negative emissions”, as they put it. That speculative technology, then, is what we’ll have to count on if nations don’t make more aggressive commitments than the ones in the Paris Agreement.

How bad is 1.5°C? Much of the report compares 1.5°C warming to 2°C, and unsurprisingly finds that 1.5°C is better. But, to return to the smoking analogy, it’s like comparing quitting smoking at 45 with quitting at 60. The statistics of the risk change, but the kinds of things at risk mostly don’t. Sea levels will rise, but not as far. Weather will get more violent, but not as much. Species will go extinct, but not as many.

Much of what is at risk depends on processes we don’t fully understand. So, for example, higher global temperatures will change weather patterns. But nobody can pinpoint a temperature at which, say, Kansas becomes a desert. National Post reports on the “climate apocalypse” talk:

A lot of the press coverage on the new report has liberally employed terms like “nightmare,” “apocalypse,” or “a world on fire.” The IPCC report contains plenty of dire scenarios of a 2 degree world: Death of the world’s coral reefs, an extra 300 million exposed to crop failures, deadly heat waves becoming an annual occurrence in South Asia. Climate change could undo decades of progress on improving human welfare, but it’s not an existential threat to the species. Even unchecked climate change is not on the scale of a nuclear holocaust; its costs are more akin to a couple world wars and global pandemics. The most dire images come from a section where report authors imagine a world in which humanity has made almost no attempt to curb emissions. By the year 2100 the world “is no longer recognizable, with decreasing life expectancy, reduced outdoor labour productivity, and lower quality of life in many regions because of too frequent heatwaves and other climate extremes.”

Where does 2030 come from? We’re on pace to breech 1.5°C in 2040, so why is everybody talking about 2030? Time lags.

If current pledges for 2030 are achieved but no more, researchers find very few (if any) ways to reduce emissions after 2030 sufficiently quickly to limit warming to 1.5°C. …

A world that is consistent with holding warming to 1.5°C would see greenhouse gas emissions rapidly decline in the coming decade, with strong international cooperation and a scaling up of countries’ combined ambition beyond current NDCs. In contrast, delayed action, limited international cooperation, and weak or fragmented policies that lead to stagnating or increasing greenhouse gas emissions would put the possibility of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels out of reach.

Should we believe the IPCC? In a word: Yes. They’re not infallible prophets, but they do represent the consensus of the world scientific community.

Climate-change skeptics try to paint the argument as he-said/she-said, with vested interests lining up on both sides. But in fact, the overwhelming vested interest is on the climate-change-denial side: Fossil fuels in the ground represent literally trillions of dollars on the books of fossil-fuel corporations. If that coal and oil and natural gas can’t be burned, some of the world’s largest corporations — not to mention governments like Saudi Arabia or Russia — are insolvent.

Within the scientific community, motives are split. Some scientists have staked their reputations on climate change, but no one really wants to believe their grandchildren face some hellish future. A climate scientist who could make a genuinely persuasive case in the other direction would be celebrated. Fossil fuel companies would create institutes from thin air, if necessary, to fund his or her research.

That’s why, when you push hard on the question of climate-change-believing vested interests, denialists eventually resort to some version of the Global Socialist Conspiracy.

Global warming is not about science, but about politics — that is, about expanding the power of elites using the coercive instruments of government to control the lives of people everywhere. Just as the governing class embraces ineffective Keynesian stimulus spending to justify expansion of government, they now extol [anthropogenic global warming] as the basis for increasing their power to rule over the rest of us.

Why scientists around the world are more committed to expanding the coercive power of elites than to finding scientific truth is never fully explained. What’s more, promoters of this theory deny the obvious: If you have a genuine scientific case that global warming isn’t happening (or is going to level off on its own, without any changes in public policy), trillions of dollars in otherwise stranded assets are waiting to support you.

Techniques of denial. If you’re a fossil-fuel company and you want to keep selling your product, you don’t have to convince people that climate change isn’t happening, you just have to spread doubt and rely on the human tendency to resist change.

And here’s where our smoking metaphor does double duty: The techniques for spreading doubt about science go back to the tobacco companies, who wanted to create just enough doubt about the cigarette/cancer link that people who wanted to keep smoking could talk themselves out of quitting. (A lot of those doubtful people, I will point out, died. But they bought a lot of cigarettes before they did.) You can see echoes in that National Review quote above.

For example, back in the 60s and 70s, tobacco-company-funded groups like the Tobacco Institute would say that the cigarette/cancer link was just “statistical”, implying that statistics was some kind of voodoo science not worth your notice. National Review is repeating a similar fossil-fuel industry talking point when it refers contemptuously to “computer models”.

Like statistics, computer modeling is something the average person doesn’t understand, and so it is a good target for unscrupulous people who want to sow doubt. But computer modeling is how we predict almost anything complicated these days. Predictions of hurricane tracks, for example, are based on computer models.

And yes, a dishonest programmer can make a computer spit out anything he or she wants. But that’s why the scientific community has processes for assessing claims. Something like the IPCC report doesn’t come from just one guy with an iMac. Each claim has been examined by dozens, sometimes hundreds or thousands, of scientists who are trained to look for mistakes or fraud in this particular area. They come from countless institutions in 195 countries. No vested interest ties them all together. The vested interest, recall, lies with the trillions of dollars at risk for the fossil-fuel industry.

What’s the overall message of the report? The commitments nations made in the Paris Agreement are steps in the right direction, but they aren’t adequate. If that’s all the world does, 1.5°C will be locked in by 2030, even if it won’t show up until 2040 or so. To avoid 1.5°C, we have to phase out fossil fuels far more quickly.

What you won’t find in the report is a safe zone, a line in the sand that tells us how far we can go. Where we are now isn’t “safe”, it’s just less risky than where we’re headed.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Last week’s Sift came out right after the IPCC’s new climate-change report. With no time to think about it, I ignored it. I’ll try to make up for that this week.

When I did have time to think about it, I was struck as much by the coverage of the report as by the report itself. It almost didn’t matter what IPCC’s scientists had said. The headlines would be about the terrible things that were set to happen by a particular date, and the denialists would denounce those predictions as scaremongering. If the predictions grow more extreme, that’s not taken as evidence that the situation is getting worse, but that the proponents of the climate change theory are growing more desperate.

On either side, the media talks about climate change as if it were a bomb set to go off in some future year. The argument, then, is about whether or not the bomb is a dud or the timer is accurate. That’s a totally screwed-up frame and produces a screwed-up public debate.

So the featured article this week, which I still haven’t titled, doesn’t begin with the predictions of disaster. Rather, I start with why this report was written, why it focuses on the particular parameters it does, and why it is coming out now. I frame the issue with a different metaphor than a bomb: Burning fossil fuels is like smoking cigarettes. That more accurate metaphor makes it easier to see through the sophistries of climate-change denial.

I still have a lot of work to do on that, so it may not appear before 11 EDT. The weekly summary covers Hurricane Michael, how the mid-term elections look, the missing Turkish journalist, the return of Iran sanctions, the ongoing sabotage of ObamaCare, and a few other things. It should be out by 1.

Actual Happenings

The truth is it’s women — women are the victims in this situation. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to be feeling sorry for women, but women are the victims and that’s what we’re trying to fix. But Trump has managed to turn that, and he’s turned it with everybody. He goes: “The real victims in this story is not the kids in the cages, it’s you. It’s you who — they’re coming to take your place. The real victim isn’t the refugee from Syria, it’s you, who’s going to get blown up by a terrorist bomb.” … People felt, because of Trump, like they were losing their country. They felt like America was losing. And feeling is oftentimes more powerful than what is actually happening.

Trevor Noah

This week’s featured post is “Are Men Victims Now?

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh

After much Sturm und Drang, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court Saturday by a 50-48 Senate vote. All Republicans voted Yes except Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and all Democrats voted No except Joe Manchin of West Virginia. (The votes don’t add up to 100 because Murkowski made a deal with Montana Senator Steve Daines. Daines, a Yes vote, wanted to go to his daughter’s wedding, so Murkowski, a No vote, agreed to cover for him by voting Present. In other words, they preserved the two-vote margin that would have existed if Daines had stayed in Washington. I don’t hold the Present vote against Murkowski; it was a collegial thing to do.)

Most of the people I know are struggling to accept this. Some are angry, some are depressed, and a lot of us bounce through a range of emotions.

Now that the Senate has made such a travesty of its responsibility to seek the truth, the onus passes to us. The reason they’re not supposed to do stuff like this is that the voters will vote them out. Well, that’s what we need to do now. There’s an election in four weeks, and we all need to do whatever we can to sway it. Vote, of course, but also (to the extent that you’re able) volunteer, give money, convince your friends to vote, and do whatever else you can think of.

If Republicans can do this and not pay a price in elections, then they really have won.


A issue I’ve been talking about on this blog since I retrospectively declared it a major theme of 2013 is minority rule. Democrats have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, and yet Republicans have appointed 5 of the 9 Supreme Court justices. The GOP Senate “majority” that approved Kavanaugh represents fewer citizens that the Democratic “minority”. Gerrymandering in the House means that Democrats probably will have to win at least 7% more votes than Republicans if they want to take control.

Looking ahead, the Supreme Court will hear a number of cases that bear on the GOP’s ability to maintain its minority rule: gerrymandering cases, techniques to suppress voting blocs likely to support Democrats, and so on. You have to wonder how many of those decisions will be 5-4 to maintain Republican power at the expense of democracy.

Paul Waldman writes in The Washington Post:

When he ran for president, Donald Trump told his voters that they were the victims of a rigged system. Nurture your rage, he urged them, and strike a blow against that system by voting for me. In truth, he was the product of the rigged system, not its enemy.


The Senate hearing last week with Kavanaugh and his main accuser, Dr. Catherine Blasey Ford, was set up to offer a he-said/she-said choice, but it didn’t seem that 50/50 to me. Dr. Blasey Ford was forthright and honest about the limitations of her memory, while Judge Kavanaugh was evasive and refused to admit the most trivially embarrassing things, even if he had to insult our intelligence to deny them. (We all know what the “Beach Week Ralph Club” was: a list of boys who drank until they threw up during Beach Week. What’s the point of claiming otherwise?) A good analysis of his testimony is in the Current Affairs article “How We Know Kavanaugh is Lying“.

The most likely scenario, in my view, is that Kavanaugh did drink to excess in high school, and that he did attack Blasey Ford. But he doesn’t remember it because (1) he was drunk, (2) it was a long time ago, and (3) the attack was too brief and unsuccessful to be memorable from his point of view.


That hearing also provided a clear lesson in male privilege, especially with regard to the expression of anger. If Blasey Ford had seethed and exploded like Kavanaugh did, or if Diane Feinstein had blown her top like Lindsey Graham, both would have been written off as hysterical women, and the substance of what they had said would have been ignored.


Several observers, including retired Justice John Paul Stevens (damn, I hope I have that many of my marbles at age 98), thought that Kavanaugh expressed too much partisan bias in his testimony to be an effective judge. Stevens implied that Kavanaugh’s publicly displayed political bias ought to lead him to recuse himself from so many cases that he would only “do a part-time job” on the Supreme Court.

I suspect he won’t recuse himself, and will vote in the way his bias points. To me, Kavanaugh is more of a political operative than a judge. When the Court hears politically sensitive cases about, say, gerrymandering or voting rights or the Trump investigation, I expect Kavanaugh’s rulings to maximize Republican power. He will examine the facts and the law only to the extent necessary to reach his desired outcome. (Feel free to quote this back to me and gloat if I’m wrong.)


Republicans consistently argued for an innocent-until-proven-guilty standard, which I think is ridiculous. James Fallows critiques this better than I could:

Proof beyond reasonable doubt is the right standard for depriving someone of liberty. Bill Cosby’s jury was satisfied on those grounds, and O.J. Simpson’s was not. But that has never been the standard for choosing a university president, or a CEO, or a four-star general, or a future marriage partner, or a Nobel prize winner, or a lifetime federal judge. With all their differences, the standard for these decisions is supposed to be: is this the best person for the role?

When you understand that, the only conceivable excuse for voting Yes on Kavanaugh is if you believe whole-heartedly that Dr. Blasey Ford is lying (along with the other women who have accused Kavanaugh), and that any Trump-appointed judge would face similar false charges (although Neil Gorsuch did not). Otherwise, Republicans ought to be able to find some other conservative judge untainted by serious, plausible charges.


I thought this Bruce MacKinnon cartoon was raw but devastating:


I don’t see the political logic for Susan Collins’ Yes vote. And I’m not just thinking about the $3 million and counting that has been raised for whoever challenges her in 2020.

If current projections hold, the Democrats will take the House in November. So when the new Congress starts in January, Democrats will have the ability to conduct investigations. At that point, a real Kavanaugh investigation will take place. Quite likely it won’t produce enough evidence to remove a sitting justice. (Two-thirds of the Senate would have to agree. My guess is a real investigation will find numerous false statements to Congress, but Republicans will see them lacking sufficient significance to count as perjury. Sexual assault charges will become more credible, but not rise to the beyond-reasonable-doubt standard Republicans will insist on.)

But it will be clear that senators who voted for Kavanaugh weren’t interested in finding the truth. That information will be available for some devastating attack ads against Collins. She’ll also have to take responsibility for whatever decisions Kavanaugh makes in the next two years, and I strongly suspect there will be some that expose her reading of his record and character (“Despite the turbulent, bitter fight surrounding his nomination, my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our Judiciary and our highest court is restored.”) as the wishful thinking it is.

Collins’ speech announcing her decision was full of misrepresentations of the case against Kavanaugh, like this:

There are some who argue that given the current Special Counsel investigation, President Trump should not even be allowed to nominate a justice. That argument ignores our recent history. President Clinton, in 1993, nominated Justice Ginsburg after the Whitewater investigation was already underway. And she was confirmed 96-3. The next year, just three months after Independent Counsel Robert Fiske was named to lead the Whitewater investigation, President Clinton nominated Justice Breyer. He was confirmed 87-9.

Clinton was suspected of participating in a shady real-estate deal. Trump is suspected of gaining the presidency by conspiring with an enemy power. The similarity escapes me. If the worst suspicions about Trump are true, then Russia has reshaped our Supreme Court.

Maine voter and NYT contributor Jennifer Finney Boylan judges Collins in the light of the long tradition of maverick senators from Maine, from Margaret Chase Smith to Angus King. In contrast, Boylan finds Collins to be

the kind of centrist who wants to please everyone. For Ms. Collins, it’s often meant voting with the most right-wing members of her party, even while attempting to occupy some imaginary moral high ground. … In [voting to confirm Kavanaugh], she has proved herself, in the end, to stand for nothing.


I also don’t see the logic for Joe Manchin, but maybe he’ll prove me wrong. I think red-state Democratic senators were in a no-win situation: A No vote energizes their opposition, while a Yes vote demoralizes their supporters. So Heitkamp and McCaskill (no) and Manchin (yes) probably all suffer.


Trump tweet Friday morning:

The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love!

The Washington Post fact-checkers gave this three Pinocchios. Trump and Chuck Grassley have decided to push an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that has worked for right-wing dictators like Putin in Russia and Orban in Hungary.


Some of the responses to the Senate hearing were hilarious. The Pulp Fiction mash-up stood out. (If you’re at work, keep the volume low.)

So did Matt Damon’s SNL parody of Kavanaugh:

And Tom Toles added this cartoon

and where Trump’s money comes from

The New York Times published an enormous article detailing how Donald Trump got rich: Not by being the brilliant businessman he claims to be, but by inheriting his father’s empire while using illegal methods to dodge taxes.

If Congress were doing its job under the Constitution, this would be investigated. But Congress isn’t doing its job, and it won’t as long as Republicans remain in control. That’s why it’s so important for Democrats to win at least the House.

and a small sign that black lives actually might matter

The shooting of Laquan McDonald (which was captured on video) has resulted in a murder conviction for an on-duty Chicago cop. A white cop is going to prison for shooting a black teen-ager. In Chicago. This is huge. I know, it required overwhelming evidence and was only a second-degree murder conviction, but change has to start somewhere. Here’s the NYT’s description of the shooting:

After a truck driver reported that evening that someone was breaking into vehicles in a parking lot, police officers followed Laquan, who was carrying a three-inch pocketknife and refused to stop when they told him to. The pursuit — with Laquan walking down the street and officers on foot and in squad cars behind him — ended when Officer Van Dyke arrived in a car, stepped out and shot him repeatedly, even after his body was crumpled on the street.

The jury included only one black, but the 11 others also didn’t buy the usual police argument that the officer was just doing his job and feared for his life.

“It seemed kind of like he was finally giving the play after they had been rehearsing with him for weeks,” said one juror, a white woman, who noticed Officer Van Dyke “staring at us, trying to win our sympathy” when he testified. … “Police officers aren’t going to be as confident moving forward with taking their case to a jury, getting that heightened credibility just by being a police officer,” said Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant. “That’s not a given anymore.”

Sadly, though, police are still more intent on defending their own than in winning back the public’s trust by getting bad cops off the street:

“This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message to every law enforcement officer in America that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back,” Chris Southwood, a state leader of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, said.

The case has already had political consequences. After the video was released,

The police superintendent was fired, the local prosecutor lost her re-election bid, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced shortly before the trial began that he would not seek re-election next year.

but I’m thinking about cyber attacks

The paragraphs in Bob Woodard’s Fear that I found most alarming got practically no coverage.

[Tom Bossert, Trump’s advisor for homeland security] knew the United States was already in a constant state of low-intensity cyber war with advanced foreign adversaries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. These countries had the ability to shut down the power grid in United States cities, for example, and the only deterrent was to make clear that a massive cyber attack would not just be met with cyber-for-cyber symmetry.

The full force of the U.S. military, including nuclear weapons [my emphasis], would have to be a central part of the deterrent. Bossert liked to say, and he said it regularly, that the use of any element of national power would be justified. The United States had too much to lose in a high-consequence cyber attack. Bossert had repeated it so often that the president seemed to understand, but the import of this — nuclear weapons as a cyber deterrent — had not quite become part of the public debate.

No shit it hadn’t, and still hasn’t. The next time you read about some cyber vulnerability (and I’m about to tell you about one) you need to think about it as a place where a spark could set off nuclear war.

If we have a weakness that would require nuclear war as a response, you’d think we’d rapidly be trying to cover it, and that nuclear-war-type money — hundreds of billions, in other words — would be available. But no. The FY 2019 budget calls for $15 billion in cyber security, mostly focused on securing the federal government’s own systems. But power grids, the communication infrastructure, pipelines, and much of the financial system all lie in the private sector. Corporations definitely have their own reasons to want to stop hackers, but I don’t believe their motivation rises to avoiding-nuclear-war levels.

[Full disclosure: My wife, though mostly retired, still works in the computer-security industry. I doubt we would profit significantly from a big increase in cyber-security spending.]


China appears to have pulled off an amazing hack: The Chinese military built a microchip that surreptitiously got inserted onto motherboards built in Chinese factories for Supermicro, an American corporation whose

motherboards can be found in made-to-order server setups at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers, and web-hosting services, among other places. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, but its motherboards—its core product—are nearly all manufactured by contractors in China.

… With more than 900 customers in 100 countries by 2015, Supermicro offered inroads to a bountiful collection of sensitive targets. “Think of Supermicro as the Microsoft of the hardware world,” says a former U.S. intelligence official who’s studied Supermicro and its business model. “Attacking Supermicro motherboards is like attacking Windows. It’s like attacking the whole world.”

… Since the implants were small, the amount of code they contained was small as well. But they were capable of doing two very important things: telling the device to communicate with one of several anonymous computers elsewhere on the internet that were loaded with more complex code; and preparing the device’s operating system to accept this new code.

About 30 companies appear to have been affected. Amazon and Apple are reported to have found the hack on their own. A certain amount of luck was involved.

and you also might be interested in …

The video of Trump climbing the stairs into Air Force One with paper stuck to his shoe is funny, but it points to a serious problem: Trump has surrounded himself with people who are afraid to tell him when he looks ridiculous. What else might they be willing to let him do, rather than burst his I-never-make-mistakes bubble?


In the wake of the revised NAFTA deal, now called USMCA, an NYT article by Neil Irwin claims to have found a strategy in the administration’s trade policies, which at times have looked almost random.

Now that the administration has shown it can get to yes with [Canada, Mexico, and South Korea], similarly patterned agreements with Europe and Japan are expected to come next. After revised deals with those allies are in place, the administration will most likely seek a concerted effort among them to isolate China and compel major changes to Chinese business and trade practices.

… A crucial question is whether the administration’s strategy of pummeling allies with attacks, threats and tariffs can yield not just revised trade agreements, but also the trust needed to undertake a concerted campaign against China.

A contrasting view comes from Robert Kagan in The Washington Post, who says we are “sleepwalking into war” with China. The problem is that Trump thinks only in terms of money, and doesn’t understand that “Trade, finance, diplomacy and military power are all aspects of comprehensive national power.”

Historically, however, economics and trade have always been an adjunct to geopolitics. Trade wars and economic competition were often precursors to real wars — Germany and Britain before World War I, for example, or the mercantilist competition among England, Spain and France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

… It’s not clear Trump administration officials quite see that their tough trade policies could lead down a path toward conflict. They are treating the trade dispute as a matter of punishing China for unfair trade practices and correcting imbalances. … It would be one thing if Trump’s trade policy were part of an overall geopolitical strategy to deal with a rising China, but it isn’t.

… In our current inward-looking myopia, we think about jobs and votes. The Chinese, as always, think about power. In case you didn’t recognize it, this is what sleepwalking into war looks like.

and let’s close with something symbolic

An 8-year-old girl found a pre-Viking sword in a lake in Sweden. If you have a good mythological imagination, you might muse on the timing. As patriarchy reasserts itself in North America …

Are Men Victims Now?

In an increasingly unequal society, it’s very soothing for the winners to hear that they’re the “real” victims.


In the film “How to Murder Your Wife“, Jack Lemmon’s character is innocent — in reality his wife isn’t dead at all — but as his trial progresses the evidence against him becomes so convincing that he decides to try a risky strategy: Confess, and make a closing argument that appeals to the self-interest of his all-male jury. Think how great it would be if women knew we could kill them!

If one man – just one man – can stick his wife in the goop from the gloppitta-gloppitta machine, and get away with it! Whoa-ho-ho, boy, we’ve got it made. We have got it made. All of us.

The men vote to acquit. (Then Lemmon’s wife turns up and there is a happy ending.)

In 1965, that was comedy: Men feel henpecked, so the fantasy of regaining respect by making women fear for their lives has enough appeal to be worth joking about.

Forty-three years later, the closing argument in the Brett Kavanaugh nomination was a strangely inverted version of Lemmon’s: If just one woman can stop a man from going to the Supreme Court by accusing him of sexual assault, then we’re finished. All of us.

President Trump made the argument like this:

I say that it’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very difficult time. What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice.

Asked what his message for young women was, Trump said “Women are doing great.”

He was echoing something his son, Don Jr., had said in an interview with Britain’s Daily Mail TV: He’s more afraid for his sons than his daughters:

I’ve got boys, and I’ve got girls. And when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary.

Glenn Beck warned:

If the Democrats cram this down, I believe Americans will rise up at the polls, as we don’t want this to happen to our sons, brothers, husbands fathers.

“This”, apparently, is to pay some tangible price because a woman makes a false accusation against you. Many people making this argument don’t even claim that Christine Blasey Ford is lying about Kavanaugh. Even if she’s telling the truth, they say, she has little in the way of supporting evidence. And if just one woman can make a man pay a price purely on the strength of her testimony … then we’re finished, all of us.

The reverse-handmaid dystopia. Something strange is going on here, and it speaks to the roots of the conservative mindset: There is a fantasy dystopia that they can imagine we might be moving towards, and the fear of that dystopia outweighs reams and reams of actual injustice in the here and now.

In the dystopia, the reverse-Handmaid’s-Tale world, any woman can inflict dire consequences on any man just by making up an accusation against him. She will be believed and he won’t, so he’ll be “guilty until proven innocent“, as Mitch McConnell puts it. Every man will be forced to live in fear that a false accusation will suddenly “ruin his life“.

There are a number of weird things about this thought process:

  • Women live in fear now. Not fear of some imagined future damage to their reputations or career prospects, but of actual physical attacks that are happening every day.
  • False accusations already can be made against anyone for almost anything; sexual assault is not special in that way. So Hillary Clinton supposedly murdered Vince Foster and was also involved in a child sex ring hidden under a pizza restaurant. Barrack Obama, according to then-citizen Donald Trump, was a Kenyan Muslim who ascended to the presidency by fraud. Somehow, these well known recent examples of false accusations don’t cause us all to live in terror.
  • Black men actually lived in such a dystopia for centuries: If a white woman accused him of sexual impropriety (which could be little more than a lecherous glance), just about any black man could be lynched.

But the weirdest thing is the idea that society will suddenly flip from one extreme to the other, without ever occupying the reasonable ground in between. Right now, a woman’s report of sexual assault is often disbelieved, and is rarely seen as sufficient reason to impose any consequences at all on the reported attacker. It’s not just that you can go to the Supreme Court if one (or three) women accuse you, you can be elected president if more than a dozen women accuse you. If your rapist is viewed as a promising young white man from a good family, even a conviction might only result in a light sentence.

Perversely, the fact that women’s accounts of sexual assault so rarely lead to any serious consequences (except negative ones for the woman) is precisely the reason to believe them: Christine Blasey Ford went into the Kavanaugh hearings expecting to achieve nothing and knowing that her own life would be disrupted. That’s the typical situation these days. By far, the most likely explanation of why she would put herself through this ordeal is that Kavanaugh actually assaulted her.

False accusations are not impossible, but they are not common. False-accusation worriers still bring up the Duke lacrosse team case. But that was a dozen years ago. That’s still the standard example because false accusations that lead to punishments are so rare.

What’s the reasonable middle? If we ever got to a point where men could be jailed just on one woman’s say-so, the situation I just described wouldn’t hold any more: Women would have motive to make stories up, just as Mike Flynn’s son was motivated to promote false stories about PizzaGate, or Donald Trump Jr. to make false claims about Anderson Cooper.

Ideally, we could get to a point where sexual-assault accusations could be treated like other accusations: Absurd ones could be discounted, but plausible ones would be investigated, with the investigation becoming more serious as lighter investigations failed to disprove them. Different levels of plausibility would lead to different consequences: Proof beyond reasonable doubt would continue to be the standard for taking away someone’s liberty, but lesser standards would hold for lesser consequences.

That’s how things are now for non-sexual charges. Suppose your colleagues at work believe you’ve been stealing money out of their desks. If they have proof beyond reasonable doubt, you might go to jail. If they don’t, but a preponderance of evidence points to your guilt, your boss might agree with them and fire you. If your guilt or innocence is hard to determine, you might keep your job, but when a better job opens up that requires more trust, you might miss out.

As long as Donald Trump is president and Brett Kavanaugh has a lifetime appointment to our highest court, we’re not in that reasonable middle. We’re clearly not treating sexual assault charges like other charges.

Other conservative fantasies that overpower actual events. The male-threatening dystopia follows a common pattern on the right: a particularly worrisome fantasy or unique example often outweighs far more common real events.

So the fantasy that men will hang around in women’s bathrooms falsely claiming to be transsexual, and then assault women there — has that ever actually happened? But on the right, that imagined horror outweighs the actual problems of transsexuals, like the middle school student in Stafford County, Virginia who was left on the bleachers during an active-shooter drill and eventually told to sit in the hall between the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, because school officials couldn’t decide which one she should shelter in. (In essence, the school practiced letting the shooter kill her.) That happened last week, not a dozen years ago.

If you want to discuss limits on the size of gun magazines (which would save actual lives, because mass shooters are most commonly stopped when they have to reload), you’ll be met with fantasies of home invasions in which ten bullets (or any finite number) just aren’t enough. Even the most reasonable and toothless gun control proposal will invoke fantasies of a tyrannical government herding its disarmed populace into concentration camps. (Strangely, this doesn’t happen in Japan, or in any other democratic country with very few civilian guns.)

The reversal of victimhood. The person who best expressed what this is all about this week was Trevor Noah of The Daily Show.

“Trump’s most powerful tool,” Noah says, is that he knows how to wield victimhood. He knows how to offer victimhood to people who have the least claim to it.”

If you belong to a privileged group, quite possibly at some level you feel guilty about that. Or maybe you just feel vulnerable to the charge that you don’t deserve what you have, or that other people who deserve more actually have less. Although you try not to think about it, you may vaguely wonder if somewhere innocent people are being mistreated in your name.

So it’s very powerful when a demagogue like Trump can tell you that you are “the real victim”. He allows you to project your guilty feelings onto someone else, and instead to claim the moral righteousness of victimhood. Noah explains:

It’s not that we have to be feeling sorry for women, but women are the victims and that’s what we’re trying to fix. But Trump has managed to turn that, and he’s turned it with everybody. He goes: “The real victims in this story is not the kids in the cages, it’s you. It’s you who … they’re coming to take your place. The real victim isn’t the refugee from Syria, it’s you, who’s going to get blown up by a terrorist bomb.”

… People felt, because of Trump, like they were losing their country. They felt like America was losing. And feeling is oftentimes more powerful than what is actually happening.

So we wind up in the situation I described years ago in “The Distress of the Privileged“: Whites think they are the real victims of racism. Christians think their religious freedom is under attack, and needs the government’s defense. Anglos are being victimized by Hispanic immigrants who do our dirty work for almost no money. Rich people are being “punished” by taxes — even taxes far lower than rich people used to pay.

And men can still, with a great deal of impunity, harass women. It’s embarrassing when they start to complain about it, but that embarrassment doesn’t make us the victims. Dr. Blasey Ford has her memories, both of being attacked decades ago, and of being vilified in front of a cheering crowd by the President of the United States. Meanwhile, Justice Kavanaugh has the job he has wanted all his life. He is not the victim.

We live a nation that is becoming increasingly unequal, that is ever-more-harshly divided between winners and losers. If you are a winner with any semblance of a conscience, you probably are uneasy about that, whether you think about it consciously or not. It’s very soothing to be told that the situation is exactly the reverse of how it appears, that you, the winner, are the “real” victim.

It’s soothing, but it’s false. And the more we indulge in this kind of thinking, the more unjust our society will be.

The Monday Morning Teaser

So Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court now. You probably heard. Some of the people I know are angry about that, some are depressed, and some are energized to work harder than ever on the midterm campaigns. If we could choose our emotional responses, probably most of us would choose to be energized. But sadly, that seems not to be how it works. You are where you are and you feel what you feel.

Can we at least agree, no matter how we feel most of the time, to muster the energy to vote? If they beat us down that far, to the point where we’re too depressed to vote against them, then they really have won.

George Orwell wrote: “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.” But the forces that put Trump in the White House and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court are not invincible. They represent a minority of the country, and it took a series of flukish events to put them in this position: division and apathy on our side (does anyone still believe today that Hillary would have been “just as bad”?), Russian interference, bad campaign strategy, Comey’s last-minute announcements, and a small number of votes in key states breaking exactly the wrong way, nullifying a popular-vote victory.

Their power is based on a number of injustices that are widely unpopular, if they can be brought to voters’ attention: gerrymandering, dark money, and the disenfranchisement of a significant slice of the non-white citizenry. Victims of those injustices can no longer expect to get a fair hearing at the Supreme Court, but there is still hope from ballot initiatives like the ones in Michigan and Florida.

The Supreme Court will be a bastion of injustice for the next 10-15 years. But the country has weathered that before; for most of American history, I would say, the Court has been a defender of the privileged classes. The path back to sanity is still well marked: Retake the House this year, and get the Senate and the Presidency in 2020.

But that only happens if we vote and we get the majority that agrees with us to vote. Take care of yourself, but also look for ways you can contribute energy to that project.

So what’s in the Sift this week? The main article is about the reversal of victimhood that we’ve seen in the defense of Kavanaugh: Not just Kavanaugh himself, but all men are victims now, because we might be accused of something. The women who have actually been assaulted have been shoved out of the picture. I’m still working on a title for that article, but I hope to have it out by 10 EDT.

The weekly summary will include a broader array of observations about the Kavanaugh process, The New York Times’ exposure of the real source of Trump’s wealth, trade deals, the murder conviction of a Chicago cop, and a few other things. But I also want to call your attention to something really important that I, at least, hadn’t been aware of: A cyber attack might be the spark that sets off nuclear war. Nuclear retaliation for a cyber attack is a  rarely discussed piece of American defense policy. I’ll try to have the summary out by noon.