“Fascist” is a description, not an insult.


After two years of claiming Joe Biden is senile (and deceptively editing videos to prove it), falsely claiming that his presidency is illegitimate, and pretending that “Let’s Go Brandon” and “FJB” are clever things to display on t-shirts, flags, trucks etc.; after declaring that liberals in general are groomers, pro-pedophile, communists, libtards, and baby-killers — MAGA Republicans are now deeply offended that the President has begun hitting back.

How dare he!

Biden’s counter-attack started on August 25, when he described “extreme MAGA philosophy” as “semi-fascist“. It continued in a prime-time speech Thursday night from Independence Hall in Philadelphia:

MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards, backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love. They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fanned the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.

They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, brutally attacking law enforcement, not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger at the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots. And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.

They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time, they’re determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.

If you doubted a single word of that, Trump proved Biden’s point Thursday by promising — if he should ever become president again — to “look very, very favorably about full pardons”, with a “full apology”, no less, for his Brownshirts, the rioters he drew to Washington and incited to attack the Capitol on January 6.

Apparently, Trump supporters should be free to beat up police and intimidate Congress. The law should not apply to political violence, if that violence works to Trump’s advantage.


But in spite of the obvious truth in Biden’s remarks, the pro-fascist voices shrieked in horror: Biden had “insulted” “half the people living in this country“, i.e. everyone who voted for Trump. (Who aren’t “half the country”, by the way. That’s why he lost.)

But two points: (1) Not all of those 74 million Trump votes came from “MAGA Republicans” or even Trump supporters; they just liked him better than Biden. And probably most of those voters did not expect Trump to try to hang onto power by inciting violence after he lost; they might not have voted for him if they had.

Immediately after January 6, lots of Republicans felt that way — not just Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, but also Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and many others. But then elected officials saw which way the wind was blowing within the GOP, and most of them weathervaned back into the MAGA fold. They aren’t Trumpists, they’re just opportunists and cowards.

So Biden carefully targeted his criticism:

Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.

But the MAGA folks ignored that part of the speech and continued to insist that Trump voters ARE Trump; you can’t attack him without attacking them. Which also proves Biden’s point: Telling the masses to identify with the Leader, to see his pains as their pains and his enemies as their enemies, is one of the traits of fascism.

Which brings up the second point: (2) Biden (and me and a lot of other liberals) are not using “fascism” as an insult. It is descriptive term that means something — and that meaning clearly applies to Trump and his personality cult.

In 2015, I felt obligated to write an article describing what I meant by “fascism” before I started using the word. I boiled it down to these key characteristics:

[Fascism is] a dysfunctional attempt of people who feel humiliated and powerless to restore their pride by:

styling themselves as the only true and faithful heirs of their nation’s glorious (and possibly mythical) past,

identifying with a charismatic leader whose success will become their success,

helping that leader achieve power by whatever means necessary, including violence,

under his leadership, purifying the nation by restoring its traditional and characteristic virtues (again, through violence if necessary),

reawakening and reclaiming the nation’s past glory (by war, if necessary),

all of which leads to the main point: humiliating the internal and external enemies they blame for their own humiliation.

Again, I haven’t changed that definition (not even the italics) since 2015. Trump and his movement have spent the last 7 years proving me right about them, from the demonization of Muslims to the intentional cruelty of his border policy to the mob violence of January 6.

And what unites Trump’s mob? Identification with one of the groups that might feel aggrieved by the slipping of its former dominance. If the core of your identity is to be White, male, Christian, rural, or heterosexual, and you feel wronged by a society that no longer honors you as you feel you deserve (or sufficiently punishes people who are different from you), then you are a “real American” who needs to bask in the gold-plated glow of Trump’s reflected greatness, and needs his strength to strike back at those who have looked down on you.

As I said in 2015, fascism appears mercurial because it’s not “political” in any ordinary sense; it has no characteristic ideology or economic program, just friends and enemies. Fascism is a phenomenon of social psychology. It’s about dominance and grievance and humiliation and projecting images of strength, not potential solutions to the problems of Americans’ real lives.

The GOP’s decision not to write a platform in 2020 was textbook fascism: Our policy is Trump. Today, the way a candidate gets Trump’s endorsement and the backing of his cult is not to champion a set of ideals or policies, it’s to champion Trump himself, and his made-up grievances about the 2020 election and the FBI’s “invasion” of Mar-a-Lago.

Imagine a candidate who pledged to advance all of the Trump administration policies, but said that Biden had been legitimately elected and the January 6 riot was wrong. Could that candidate get Trump’s endorsement? I think not.

Trump doesn’t have policies, he has grievances. If you also feel aggrieved, he wants you to identify your grievances with his, and to vicariously experience satisfaction when he is victorious again and achieves a humiliating revenge against his enemies.

That’s what fascism is all about.


The Monday Morning Teaser

This week the hole Donald Trump is in got deeper. And as he so often does, he did a lot of the digging himself. In his motion for a Trump-appointed judge to put an independent special master between the Department of Justice and the documents the FBI took from Mar-a-Lago under a search warrant, Trump’s lawyers included so much disinformation and outright falsehood that DoJ felt obligated to respond with a full history of their attempts to recover Trump’s stolen documents. The filing ended with an evidence photo of clearly labeled secret and top-secret documents spread across the floor in Mar-a-Lago and sitting next to one of the flimsy bankers’ boxes where these documents had been stored.

The photo was a holy-shit moment for me and just about anybody else who has ever had a security clearance. There’s no nuance here, no argument to be had about where to draw the line between legal and illegal: He knew he had the documents. He knew he had no right to them. And he lied to the government to keep them. One of the TV talking heads appropriately compared the situation to a drug bust: “If they find the heroin in your basement, you’re in trouble.”

But this week’s two featured posts aren’t about that. In “Fascist is a description, not an insult”, I talk about President Biden’s decision to publicly push back against the anti-democracy trends in the GOP, including labeling the MAGA Republicans as “semi-fascist”.

I started applying the F-word to Trump in 2015. At the time, I felt an obligation to define what I meant and why I thought the word applied, so that it wouldn’t just be another insult to throw at someone I didn’t like. Seven years later, I stand by my definition and my decision to call Trump a fascist. That article should be out shortly.

The second featured post doesn’t have a title yet, but it concerns the politics of abortion. The big shift that has happened after Dobbs is that Democrats have taken what I call the “advantage of fantasy” away from Republicans. The hypothetical cases at the center of the debate these days are ones that favor abortion rights. (What if your 12-year-old gets pregnant from a rape?) Sooner or later, Republicans will try to take that advantage back. (What if some perfectly healthy woman wants to abort a perfectly healthy fetus moments before birth?) How should the argument go then?

That still needs work, so don’t expect to see it before 11 EDT.

That leaves a lot for the weekly summary to cover: the Trump stuff, the water problem in Jackson, CNN’s apparent desire to move to the right, a biography of a great American you probably haven’t heard of, and a few other things. And it’s not just Labor Day, it’s Labor Day falling on 9-5, which means we have to hear from Dolly Parton.

Power and Obligation

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Biden canceling some student debt

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

and the pandemic

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something deep

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

The Return of the Bitter Politics of Envy

Plutocracy survives by pitting working people against each other. Ginning up outrage against the Americans who are getting some of their student debt cancelled is just a new verse in an old song.

Back in 2012, when presidential candidate Mitt Romney was taking heat for all the jobs he destroyed on his way to wealth, he accused his critics of practicing “the bitter politics of envy” and “class warfare“. Mitt didn’t think we should resent him just because he’s richer than the rest of us, and we also shouldn’t resent any of the hard-hearted things he did to reach that exalted position.

The year before, though, we heard a very different message about envy from another conservative presidential wannabe, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who at the time was trying to kill off the state employee unions. Walker’s ally, the Club for Growth, ran ads telling Wisconsinites working in the private sector who they should really resent for the hard times that had followed the real-estate bubble of 2008: not billionaires like the ones who fund the Club for Growth, but those same state employees that Walker was trying to shaft.

All across Wisconsin, people are making sacrifices to keep their jobs. Frozen wages. Pay cuts. And paying more for health care. But state workers haven’t had to sacrifice. … It’s not fair. … It’s time state employees paid their fair share, just like the rest of us.

Is that bitter or what? The ads barely bothered to explain what benefit ordinary Wisconsinites would get from sticking it to the clerks at the DMV, other than the satisfaction of seeing those uppity state workers finally get theirs.

But strangely, Mitt’s anti-envy crusade never mentioned those ads. Because the point was never to remove envy and bitterness from politics; it was to make sure people’s resentment was directed down or sideways rather than up.

So if life seems unfair to you, don’t look at the guy on top, who is raking off vast sums of money for doing something of nebulous value, often with government help. Look instead at, say, the teachers and nurses who work for your state. If their union is making sure they still get a fair day’s pay for a day of hard work, while somebody like Mitt Romney has laid you off — well, screw those teachers and nurses!

Better yet, screw the poor family who got an extra $50 of public assistance because Jenny didn’t report her babysitting income. Such dishonesty! Ignore the corporation that got a big tax cut to create jobs, and then conveniently forgot to create jobs. Ignore the guy who claims to be a billionaire, but keeps using the bankruptcy laws to stiff his creditors. Did you know there’s a guy who buys lobster with food stamps? (Or at least there was, back in 2013. He still comes up from time to time.) That’s what’s wrong with America!

You know who else is destroying America? People who are so desperate that they risk their lives to come here so they can clean our toilets for less than minimum wage. Who do they think they are? We have laws, you know.

This is how plutocracy survives: If you’re unhappy, focus your resentment on other people like you, or maybe people worse off than you. But don’t look up with anything in your heart other than awe and gratitude. Never look up in resentment.

The current example of this trick is the attempt to raise anger about Biden’s student-debt-relief program, which was announced Wednesday.


Before we get into the divisive rhetoric, let’s quickly review what Biden’s program does: If you have student loans and you don’t make too much money, you can get part of your debt forgiven. The amount of forgiveness is capped at $20K if you received a need-based Pell Grant, and at $10K if you didn’t. (Two-thirds of Pell Grant recipients come from families with less than $30K of annual household income.) And “make too much money” means $125K per year for an individual or $250K for a household. The Biden administration estimates that the bulk of the benefit will go to people making considerably less than the upper limit.

In addition, Biden’s executive order changes the rules around payment rates: Required payments are capped at 5% of discretionary income (down from 10%), and the definition of “discretionary” has changed to lower the payments further.

NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie points out that you don’t have to have gone to college to benefit:

If you want to haul freight for a living, you’ll need a commercial driver’s license, which means you’ll need training, which means you’ll need school. This schooling can cost thousands of dollars, and students can pay their tuition with federal student loans. So, too, can people who need training to work as medical technicians or home care workers or physical therapists or restaurant workers, among many other trades and professions.

Millions of people with blue-collar jobs owe thousands of dollars in federal student loans, and they may not have the income needed to pay them off. Biden’s plan helps them as much or more than a graduate of a four-year college with debt on the ledger. It also helps the millions of Americans who took out loans, attended college, but for one reason or another could not complete their degrees and are in the worst of all financial worlds as a result.

One of the examples in Biden’s announcement calls attention to this fact:

A typical single construction worker (making $38,000 a year) with a construction management credential would pay only $31 a month, compared to the $147 they pay now under the most recent income-driven repayment plan, for annual savings of nearly $1,400.

In short: Biden has done a pretty good job of aiming this program at middle-and-lower-class people who tried to better themselves through education and training, but didn’t strike it rich.


But if you listened to the Republican response, or the drum-beat on Fox News, you wouldn’t grasp any of that. Conservatives are trying to turn this into a culture-war issue, with taxes from salt-of-the-Earth non-college folks paying for a benefit that goes only to privileged (but lazy) intellectual snobs.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (net worth $35 million, and I’m not sure if that counts his wife’s $30 million) blasted the proposal:

Democrats’ student loan socialism is a slap in the face to working Americans who sacrificed to pay their debt or made different career choices to avoid debt. A wildly unfair redistribution of wealth toward higher-earning people.

Marjorie Taylor Greene (whose construction company had a $183K loan forgiven under the Paycheck Protection Program) also drew a culture-war battle line:

Taxpayers all over the country, taxpayers that never took out a student loan, taxpayers that pay their bills and maybe even never went to college, just hardworking people, they shouldn’t have to pay off the great big student loan debt for some college student that piled up massive debt going to some Ivy League school

Ted Cruz (an Ivy-Leaguer who was a Princeton undergrad before going to Harvard Law School and is married to a Goldman Sachs banker) sharpened the image of who you should resent:

If you are that slacker barista who wasted seven years in college studying completely useless things, now has loans and can’t get a job, Joe Biden just gave you 20 grand

Or maybe the reason you’re in debt over your head is that you “wasted” four years training to teach in the Texas public schools, while Ted spends over $40K per child per year on his kids’ private school.

But we don’t even need to go there, because barista is a job. That “slacker” woman does real work that keeps her on her feet all day, and Ted has just slapped her in the face.

That barista insult also points to another fault line Republicans are trying to exploit: generational resentment.


A lot of people my age and older are making an I-suffered-so-I-want-everybody-to-suffer argument. (An aside to people who claim to reach their conservatism by way of Christianity: Can you imagine a less Christ-like position?)

Supposedly, forgiving any student debt at all is an “insult” to the people who have paid their debt in full, or paid for college without loans (as many people my age did). Similarly, emancipation was an insult to all the enslaved people who escaped to Canada without Lincoln’s help. The Covid vaccines are an insult to all the people who died of Covid before they were available. And so on. It’s not fair.

The most bizarre aspect of this debate is that there actually is a generational-justice issue here, but it points in the opposite direction: People (like me) who got our higher educations in the 1970s and 1980s received our government subsidy up front. That’s why we didn’t pile up debt.

That happened in two ways. First, the grant money available from the federal government covered a much bigger percentage of student expenses.

But even that graph doesn’t really capture what’s been happening. One reason the orange line rises so quickly is that state governments were cutting back on the money they spent on their university systems, which then had to cover their costs by raising tuition. And as tuition rose at top state universities like Berkeley or Michigan, private colleges and universities faced less competition, and so could raise their tuition as well.

You can see the pattern in the graph below: Every time a recession threw the states’ budgets into crisis, they cut back on higher education. But when the economy improved, the cuts were never restored. As a result, the portion of college costs that students paid through tuition nearly doubled, from about a fourth to almost half.

Here’s how that pattern played out in Wisconsin. The graph below charts the state appropriation for the University of Wisconsin system per full-time-student-equivalent per year, adjusted for inflation.

That, in a nutshell, is why Millennials are carrying so much student debt: State and federal governments put much less money into their educations than those governments had put into, for example, mine. So Millennials had to borrow to cover the difference.

But let’s add one more piece to the puzzle: the loss of other options.


At the same time higher education was getting more expensive, high-paying jobs for people without some post-high-school degree or credential were going away. And like the rise in tuition, this trend was the result of government policies: Two key parts of the Reagan revolution (which Bill Clinton mostly either let stand or actively continued) were union-busting and globalization, which sent entire manufacturing industries overseas and forced huge wage-and-benefit concessions from the workers who still had jobs.

Fifty years ago, a union job on the assembly line at GM or a truck-driving job under a Teamster contract was a plausible path to the American dream. On that one income, you could buy a house, raise children, and even send those children to (government subsidized) college if they were so inclined.

Or you could work a union job for a year or two while you lived with your parents, and save up enough money to put yourself through college.

No more.

So in these last few decades, young people born without wealth have faced an increasingly grim choice: accept that they are permanent members of an underclass that will always have to struggle financially — like the baristas Ted Cruz despises so much — or gamble on their future success by taking on enormous debts. (I anticipate the objection that there’s a third choice: start your own business. But if you don’t have parents wealthy or connected enough to get you started — like, say, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos — that path also typically involves heavy borrowing.)

And who put them in that unfortunate position? The US government and the voters who supported its policies.

So when I look at the whole picture, I think letting some of those debtors partially off the hook is the least we can do.

And if that outcome leaves you with boiling resentment that still needs a target, I have a suggestion on which direction you should look.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week continued the contrast between the parties that I wrote about last week. You could focus on President Biden fulfilling one of his campaign promises by cancelling a portion of the outstanding student debt, or you could watch Republicans struggle to defend the increasingly indefensible legal position Donald Trump finds himself in.

I’m making a choice to stay positive and focused on reality rather than what-ifs: Biden’s debt forgiveness program is an actual piece of governance. Trump’s legal jeopardy is a bright shiny object that it’s easy to obsess over. Every day produces a few new details that feed new rounds of speculation, but the legal gears are turning now and they will grind out something without our constant attention.

I don’t mean you should ignore Trump and the wild gyrations of his defenders, but watch it from a distance. Check in once or twice a week, not several times a day.

So anyway, this week’s featured post puts a context around the Republican attempt to raise outrage against Biden and the beneficiaries of his student-debt policy: Plutocracy survives by pitting working people against each other. But young adults have been put in a difficult position by government policies, and a little debt cancellation is the least we can do. “The Return of the Bitter Politics of Envy” should be out shortly.

The weekly summary will catch you up on the Mar-a-Lago search controversy, which (as I said) I recommend viewing from a distance rather than analyzing each new detail. Also, a memo from the Barr Justice Department sheds some light on why Trump was never indicted for obstruction.

In other news, NASA is testing out a rocket that could send people back to the Moon. The Ukraine War is six months old, and we still don’t know where it’s going. A dark-money group gets $1.6 billion from one donor. And a few other things. The summary should be out noonish, EDT.

Horrible Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the tide shifting for the fall elections


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Republican war on public education

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

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


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

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

Meanwhile, in Florida …


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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something artificial

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

Governing Party vs. Personality Cult


Democrats and Republicans are telling us who they are.

In political novels, authors make diverse issues converge so that competing politicians, parties, or movements can demonstrate their contrasting natures within the short time-window of a plot. That almost never happens in real life — except for these last two weeks.

Recent news has featured two very different stories: Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act over unanimous Republican opposition, breaking the legislative logjam that (until now) has blocked Congress from from fighting climate change, cracking down on corporations that pay no tax, or lowering prescription drug costs.

Meanwhile, Republicans did their best to raise public outrage against the FBI and DoJ after they searched for — and found — classified documents that Donald Trump was holding illegally at Mar-a-Lago. As Trump’s excuses shifted from day to day, prominent Republicans dutifully parroted each one. No member of the GOP leadership even hinted that Trump should account for his actions.

In an additional subplot, chief Trump critic Liz Cheney — former member of the House Republican leadership and daughter of a Republican vice president — was overwhelmingly rejected by the Republican voters of Wyoming. The GOP is the Trump personality cult now; anyone who won’t bow down to him belongs somewhere else.


The Inflation Reduction Act. President Biden signed the IRA on Tuesday. The bill does several things that have been popular with voters for years, but haven’t been able to get through Congress: It lowers prescription drug costs by letting Medicare negotiate with drug companies, caps how much Medicare recipients have to pay for drugs, and cracks down on profitable corporations that pay little-to-no income tax. It extends subsidies that help people afford ObamaCare policies, and also lowers the deficit by raising more revenue than it spends.

The biggest spending items in the bill are aimed at mitigating climate change, a growing problem that has been apparent for decades, but which Congress has also been unable to muster the will to address. By 2032, the IRA is expected to lower carbon emissions 40% from what they were in 2005. It accomplishes that mainly by subsidizing both sustainable electric power and the purchase of electric vehicles.

Democrats were also united around a provision to cap the cost of insulin, a life-saving drug that is out of patent and cheap to manufacture, but can cost a lot in the US (but not in other countries) due to market failures and corporate greed. Unfortunately, arcane Senate rules wouldn’t let an across-the-board insulin cap be part of a bill that circumvented the filibuster. So the Senate couldn’t pass the cap without ten Republican votes, and only seven Republicans were willing to sign on. 43 Republican senators voted to keep the price of insulin high.

Other legislative accomplishments. The IRA was the final exclamation point on a series of bills Democrats got through Congress this summer.

  • A bipartisan gun control bill. It doesn’t do nearly as much as Biden wanted, but it does extend red-flag provisions for keeping guns out of the hands of high-risk people, closes the boyfriend loophole, cracks down on interstate gun trafficking, and makes it harder for 18-21-year-olds to buy guns. It’s the first major restriction on guns in decades.
  • A veterans health bill in which the government finally took responsibility for the effects of toxic fumes from the burn pits used to dispose of military waste in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • The CHIPS Act, which is intended to bring high-tech manufacturing back to the US and put US tech industries into a better position to compete with China.

These bills build on a record of accomplishment from earlier in Biden’s term, like the American Rescue Plan Act (which deserves a lot of credit for the economy’s fast recovery from the Covid shutdown. Unemployment had skyrocketed during he last year of the Trump administration, but is near record lows now.) and the bipartisan infrastructure bill (which Trump had kept promising but never delivered).

More could have been accomplished if not for the two Democratic senators who refused to scrap the filibuster. If Democrats hold the House and pick up two senate seats in the fall — still a longshot, but a growing possibility — they could protect voting rights and codify the protection American women lost when the Supreme Court trashed Roe v Wade.

That’s who the Democrats are: They are concerned with real problems (climate change, unemployment, national competitiveness, the cost of health care …) and are not just posturing about them, but taking action.



Meanwhile, the Republicans have been displaying a different nature: a personality cult whose highest priority is to defend their leader against legal accountability for his actions.

The Mar-a-Lago search. On August 8, FBI agents executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, which is part of his country club. They were looking for records from his administration, which according to law, belong to the government, not to him. The National Archives and Record Administration, the agency that oversees such records, has been trying to reclaim their documents from him ever since he left office.

In January, NARA retrieved 15 boxes of documents and other materials from Mar-a-Lago, but (believing they had not gotten everything) asked the help of the Department of Justice. In May, DoJ issued a subpoena which they served to Trump’s lawyers on June 3. More documents were turned over at that time, and a Trump lawyer falsely signed a document stating that all classified material had been returned.

We do not at this point know why DoJ believed classified documents were still at Mar-a-Lago, but a judge found probable cause that evidence of several crimes, including breaking the Espionage Act, was still at Mar-a-Lago. Hence the search warrant.

The FBI found what the search warrant was seeking: more boxes of documents, some of them classified at the highest levels.

So far, no one has presented the slightest evidence that NARA, DoJ, the judge, or the FBI did anything wrong. Trump has railed against all of them, inspiring one deranged follower to attack an FBI office in Cincinnati, an action that led to the man’s death. But though he has posted lengthy diatribes on his Truth Social clone of Twitter, Trump has had nothing to say about the most important questions:

  • Why did he take the documents?
  • Why was he keeping them?
  • What did he plan to do with them?

The firehose. Instead, Trump has posted a series of excuses. Most of them contradict each other, and all of them have fallen apart quickly. Anderson Cooper summed them up.

  • Trump had been cooperating with DoJ, so there was no excuse to send in a search team. (Reality: Trump’s “cooperative” lawyer had lied to DoJ when it served the subpoena in June.)
  • There were no classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
  • The FBI may have planted the classified documents.
  • The documents existed and weren’t planted, but Trump had magically declassified them (via a “standing order” that no one in his administration had ever heard of). [1]
  • Obama did the same thing. (NARA immediately contradicted this: “The National Archives and Records Administration assumed exclusive legal and physical custody of Obama Presidential records when President Barack Obama left office in 2017, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”)
  • Taking the classified documents was an honest mistake. Up until the last minute, Trump thought that he could stay in power in spite of losing the election, so when it turned out that the United States was still a democracy after all, he had to pack up the White House quickly. (But why has he kept the documents, and why did his lawyers lie about them?)
  • Trump did take the classified documents and keep them after NARA asked for them, but it’s not illegal because he didn’t destroy them or sell them. (Cooper quotes the part of the Espionage Act that says it is illegal.)

Chris Hayes put together a similar list, with videos of Trump’s Fox News puppets making the claims.

There is a name for this propaganda technique: the firehose of falsehood, pioneered by Vladimir Putin. Steve Bannon refers to it as “flooding the zone with shit“.

Cooper refers to the last excuse on his list (put forward by Rudy Giuliani) as the “perfect phone call” phase of the scandal. The reference is to the call that led to Trump’s first impeachment, when he tried to make aid to Ukraine dependent on President Zelenskyy agreeing to a bogus investigation of Joe Biden. Trump and his people had offered a similar firehose of contradictory explanations and distractions, until Trump eventually settled on the defense that he did exactly what he was accused of — and had been denying — but it wasn’t wrong; it was a “perfect phone call“. His later attempt to strong-arm Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into “finding” enough votes for Trump to win Georgia was also a “perfect phone call“.


This time, though, we’ve seen one step beyond the perfect phone call: The claim that DoJ should back down (even though Trump did commit crimes) for fear of Trump’s violent followers. Thursday, Trump lawyer Alina Habba went on Newsmax to issue an implied threat to the FBI agents who carried out the Mar-a-Lago search. Commenting on the proposal that Trump release the security-camera footage of the search, she said “I would love that.” When shown a video of former FBI counter-intelligence chief Peter Strozk worrying about violence against the agents if their names and faces are identified, Habba seemed fine with that possibility.

Listen. FBI undercover agents, that’s one thing. But when you go into a president’s home, an ex-president’s home, what do you expect is going to happen? What do you expect?

I expect that there are more people out there like the guy who attacked the FBI office in Cincinnati. Habba (and Trump) know that, but they either don’t care or they’re counting on it.

Republicans against law enforcement. Every step of the way, Republican leaders have backed Trump in whichever argument he was making at the time.

Before he knew anything about the search other than that it had happened, Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to be Speaker if Republicans take the House in November, tweeted “I’ve seen enough”. Based on nothing, he immediately adopted Trump’s anti-law-enforcement rhetoric about DoJ’s “intolerable state of weaponized politicization”. He threatened an investigation of DoJ that will “leave no stone unturned”.

Also knowing nothing, and not taking a moment to find out, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik called the search “a dark day in American history” and called for “an immediate investigation and accountability into Joe Biden and his administration’s weaponizing this department against their political opponents”.

Senator Rand Paul raised the planted-documents theory on Fox News — again, based on nothing. He also called for repealing the Espionage Act that Trump appears to have violated. Numerous Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, want to defund the FBI. “I mean, we have to,” says Bo Hines, a Trump-endorsed candidate for Congress in North Carolina.

Other than a handful of exiles like Liz Cheney, no major GOP figure is asking Trump to explain why he broke the law.

As we head toward the fall elections, it’s important not to lose sight of what the two parties represent. Democrats are trying to prove that the American system of government still works, by passing laws that address the problems Americans face today, as well as the looming crises of the future. Republicans are a personality cult drumming up fear and paranoia in order to return their leader to power, no matter what he has said or done or might do in the future.

[1] As someone who once had a Top Secret clearance, I can’t let this point go without further comment. A Trump spokesman announced on Hannity:

As we can all relate to, everyone ends up having to bring home their work from time to time. American presidents are no different. President Trump, in order to prepare for work on the next day, often took documents, including classified documents, to the residence. He had a standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office and taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them.

This is nonsense on many levels. First, if you work with classified documents you don’t take your work home. Ever. If classified documents are signed out to you, you have a safe in your office, and the documents are supposed to be inside the safe when you leave for the evening.

Second, the “standing order” makes no sense. You can only take it seriously if you grossly misconceive what classification means.

What is classified is information, not paper. Suppose there are ten copies of some classified report, and Trump takes one of them home. Does that mean that the report is declassified? If I have one of the other nine copies, can I sell it to the Chinese now? Does it get reclassified in the morning when Trump brings it back? Will my espionage trial hinge on what time it was when I delivered the report to our enemies?

In short, it’s not just that Trump’s “standing order” didn’t exist (as two of his chiefs of staff have verified). It couldn’t exist. By claiming that it did exist, Trump is trying to take advantage of your ignorance. You should feel insulted.

The Monday Morning Teaser

As Lloyd Bridges says in Airplane, “I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.” After taking last week off, I now have the whole Mar-a-Lago FBI search controversy to cover, together with the capstone of President Biden’s legislative agenda, the Inflation Reduction Act.

Those two stories make interesting bookends, because they show what each party has become. Democrats are focused on passing laws that improve people’s lives and safeguard their future. Republicans’ top priority is protecting Donald Trump against any form of accountability, no matter what he has done or how absurd his defenses are. I’ll make that case in “Governing Party vs. Personality Cult”, which should be out by 10 or so EDT.

That leaves a lot for the weekly summary to cover: Republicans candidates are doubling down on unpopular positions, and voters are starting to notice. The pandemic might be letting up again. The beginning of the school year highlights right-wing meddling with public education. The one-year anniversary of Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is coming up. Women appear to be raising their dating standards. And a few other things have been happening. The summary should appear between noon and 1.

No Sift Next Monday

The next new articles will appear on August 22.


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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about Kansas


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Inflation Reduction Act


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


and the economy

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

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

and the pandemic

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

and Alex Jones

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

and you also might be interested in …


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

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

It’s party-over-country, all the way.

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

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

Jamestown, Michigan just voted to defund its public library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something sporty

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

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