Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule

If you’re a Republican, the demographic trends look bleak: Each cycle, your party’s core voters (white Evangelicals) become a smaller portion of the overall electorate. Worse, your positions on social issues (like gay rights) are turning off young voters, even if they’re straight and white, and your leaders target the fastest growing demographic (Hispanics) with vitriol almost every day.

You could try to change all that by shifting your positions. That’s what an RNC report recommended after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss. But the party decided to go another way: Figure out ways to stay in power with fewer votes.

Minority rule. In certain ways, the US system already favors a Republican minority: Small red states like Wyoming or the Dakotas have just as many senators as liberal California, and the Electoral College tilts towards small states. But that natural advantage can be expanded: Voter suppression in Georgia allowed Republicans to keep the governorship there. And, of course, unlimited campaign spending helps Republican candidates win elections they otherwise might not.

But the real pillar of minority rule is gerrymandering. If you draw the districts properly, you can remain in power even if most voters are against you. And if you’re in a state where you have a small majority of voters, you can get a supermajority of seats in the legislature, allowing you to twist the system to your advantage in all sorts of ways.

Take Virginia for example. In 2017, Democrats overwhelmingly won the popular vote in House of Delegate elections, 53%-44%. All the seats were up for election, so you’d think they’d get control, wouldn’t you?

Such a quaint notion! In fact, Virginia delegate districts are gerrymandered all to hell, with the result that Republicans stayed in power: 51 seats to the Democrats’ 49. Apparently, Democrats would have to win by at least double digits to break the Republican dominance.

Same thing in Michigan. In the 2018 elections for the Michigan House, Democrats won the popular vote 52%-47%, but Republicans kept a six-seat majority, 58-52.

On the other hand, you have North Carolina. In 2016, Republicans won the popular vote in the NC House elections, 52%-47%, similar to the Democrats’ Michigan margin in 2018. But with a different result: Republicans got an overwhelming 74-46 majority of the seats. The Republican legislative supermajority was what allowed it to change the rules when a Democrat won the governorship. Maybe the voters still can give statewide offices to Democrats, but gerrymandering lets the legislature strip power away from those offices once Democrats win them.

That’s the essence of gerrymandering today: You don’t really need a majority of voters to keep power, and even a small majority will give you a constitution-amending supermajority, along with the ability to override the vetoes of any governor that the voters manage to elect over your opposition.

Best of all, it’s self-reinforcing: If the other party can’t break your hold on the legislature, then you get to improve your gerrymander every time there’s a new census!

The minority-rule Supreme Court. The Republican minority-rule majority in the Senate allowed Mitch McConnell to block President Obama’s last nominee to the Supreme Court, and to hold the seat open until President Trump (elected with only 46% of the vote) could fill it, as well as name a second justice after Antonin Scalia died. So the Court has a 5-4 conservative majority rather than the 6-3 liberal majority it would have if American voters had actually gotten their way.

So when a gerrymandering case came to the Court this term, it gave the five conservative judges a moral challenge: Defend democracy, or defend the partisan minority that appointed you?

None of them rose to that challenge.

The case. Ostensibly, the case was non-partisan, because it paired a Republican gerrymander in North Carolina with a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland. Both concerned districts for the federal House of Representatives.

But in the larger context the case was very partisan, because nationwide, the Republican Party has embraced gerrymandering whole-heartedly, while Democrats have hung back. When Democrats took over the House of Representatives in January, the first thing it passed was H.R. 1, which banned gerrymandering of congressional districts. (It’s not clear whether Congress has any power over gerrymandering of state elections.) But of course, that bill has never come up for a vote in Mitch McConnell’s minority-rule Senate.

John Roberts’ opinion. There was never any doubt that Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh would take a partisan Republican position. The question mark was Chief Justice Roberts, who ended up writing the majority opinion.

The gist of his opinion is that while of course he personally finds partisan gerrymandering to be a despicable practice, he can only wring his hands, because the law does not allow him to do anything to stop it.

Chief Justice Marshall famously wrote that it is “the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Sometimes, however, “the law is that the judicial department has no business entertaining the claim of unlawfulness—because the question is entrusted to one of the political branches or involves no judicially enforceable rights.” In such a case the claim is said to present a “political question” and to be nonjusticiable—outside the courts’ competence and therefore beyond the courts’ jurisdiction. Among the political question cases the Court has identified are those that lack “judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving [them].” …

We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.

The picture he paints is that if the Court interfered at all, then it would be forced to come up with its own answers to questions that ought to be decided by the political branches of government: How should districts be designed? What does it mean for an election to have a “fair” outcome? And so on.

He points out that gerrymandering happened in the era of the Founders, and that their solution to it was to balance state legislatures’ decisions against the check of the federal Congress, not the courts. He points out all the ways that political forces inside the states might defeat gerrymandering without court intervention:

Indeed, numerous other States are restricting partisan considerations in districting through legislation. One way they are doing so is by placing power to draw electoral districts in the hands of independent commissions. For example, in November 2018, voters in Colorado and Michigan approved constitutional amendments creating multimember commissions that will be responsible in whole or in part for creating and approving district maps for congressional and state legislative districts. Missouri is trying a different tack. Voters there overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new position—state demographer—to draw state legislative district lines.

Kagan’s dissent. Justice Elena Kagan acknowledges Roberts’ points, and gives a “close, but no cigar” response to each.

Yes, the Founders knew about gerrymandering, the same way that they knew about firearms. (My analogy, not hers.) But the modern version is a different animal entirely.

Yes, partisan gerrymandering goes back to the Republic’s earliest days. (As does vociferous opposition to it.) But big data and modern technology—of just the kind that the mapmakers in North Carolina and Maryland used—make today’s gerrymandering altogether different from the crude linedrawing of the past. Old-time efforts, based on little more than guesses,sometimes led to so-called dummymanders—gerrymanders that went spectacularly wrong. Not likely in today’s world.

And the thing Roberts said was impossible — judging that the gerrymanders in question were unacceptable without imposing your own vision of fair design and fair outcomes — was exactly what the lower courts had done.

The approach—which also has recently been used in Michigan and Ohio litigation—begins by using advanced computing technology to randomly generate a large collection of districting plans that incorporate the State’s physical and political geography and meet its declared districting criteria, except for partisan gain. For each of those maps, the method then uses actual precinct-level votes from past elections to determine a partisan outcome (i.e., the number of Democratic and Republican seats that map produces). Suppose we now have 1,000 maps, each with a partisan outcome attached to it. We can line up those maps on a continuum—the most favorable to Republicans on one end, the most favorable to Democrats on the other. We can then find the median outcome—that is, the outcome smack dab in the center—in a world with no partisan manipulation. And we can see where the State’s actual plan falls on the spectrum—at or near the median or way out on one of the tails? The further out on the tail, the more extreme the partisan distortion and the more significant the vote dilution.

The North Carolina plaintiffs randomly produced 3,000 districting maps that meet the legal criteria. All of them were more favorable to Democrats than the one the legislature adopted.

Under [the lower courts’] approach, in other words, the State selected its own fairness baseline in the form of its other districting criteria. All the courts did was determine how far the State had gone off that track because of its politicians’ effort to entrench themselves in office. …

The plaintiffs asked only that the courts bar politicians from entrenching themselves in power by diluting the votes of their rivals’ supporters. And the courts, using neutral and manageable—and eminently legal—standards, provided that (and only that) relief. This Court should have cheered, not overturned, that restoration of the people’s power to vote.

And finally, Kagan examined Roberts’ faith that the political system would fix this problem on its own.

The majority disagrees, concluding its opinion with a paean to congressional bills limiting partisan gerrymanders. “Dozens of [those] bills have been introduced,” the majority says. One was “introduced in 2005 and has been reintroduced in every Congress since.” And might be reintroduced until the end of time. Because what all these bills have in common is that they are not laws. The politicians who benefit from partisan gerrymandering are unlikely to change partisan gerrymandering. And because those politicians maintain themselves in office through partisan gerrymandering, the chances for legislative reform are slight.

No worries, the majority says; it has another idea. The majority notes that voters themselves have recently approved ballot initiatives to put power over districting in the hands of independent commissions or other non-partisan actors. Some Members of the majority, of course, once thought such initiatives unconstitutional. But put that aside. Fewer than half the States offer voters an opportunity to put initiatives to direct vote; in all the rest (including North Carolina and Maryland), voters are dependent on legislators to make electoral changes (which for all the reasons already given, they are unlikely to do). And even when voters have a mechanism they can work themselves, legislators often fight their efforts tooth and nail. Look at Missouri. There, the majority touts a voter-approved proposal to turn districting over to a state demographer. But before the demographer had drawn a single line, Members of the state legislature had introduced a bill to start undoing the change. I’d put better odds on that bill’s passage than on all the congressional proposals the majority cites.

She concludes:

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

Potemkin democracy. My interpretation of these opinions is that Roberts (and the minority-rule court majority he leads) has no interest in actual democracy, just Potemkin democracy. As long as we have “elections” in which people vote and votes are tabulated, he’s satisfied. If the system has been rigged so that the same people win all the time, well, that’s just politics. And the Roberts Court is above politics.

What I think we should never lose sight of is how all these minority-rule actions build on each other, and then wrap around to cycle through again. A minority-rule Senate and a minority-rule President have given us a minority-rule Court. The Court now is returning the favor, helping the ever-shrinking conservative minority to maintain its hold on power into the indefinite future.

What I Learned from the Debates

This week, 20 Democratic presidential candidates participated in nationally televised debates in Miami: ten on Wednesday and ten on Thursday. In all, the candidates were on stage for four hours. Watch/read for yourself: Night 1 video, Night 1 transcript, Night 2 video, Night 2 transcript.

The Democratic Party was the real winner. Ratings were excellent. With occasional exceptions, the candidates were all well-spoken and their remarks had substance [1], though they did talk over each other too much on Thursday. They also all stayed within shouting distance of the truth. The AP fact-checking column on the first night sounds like quibbling: Beto O’Rourke, for example, said the Trump tax cut will cost $2 trillion, when the official estimate is only $1.5 trillion. The checker admitted that the debate featured “a smattering of missteps … but no whoppers”. CNN’s fact-check of the second night covered just about all the claims that sounded suspicious; a great many of them produced the comment “This is true.”

By contrast, any five minutes of a Trump speech will include several whoppers.

Some pundits criticized the candidates for not going after Trump more (especially on the first night), but I liked that. Trump tries to paint Democrats as just Trump-haters, rather than as thoughtful people with a different (i.e. morally defensible) vision of what America is and where it should go. The first round of debates didn’t fit inside that frame. Trump tweeted “BORING!” during the first night, probably because the conversation was about America rather than about him.

What I was looking for. Pollsters like to raise the question: “Which is more important, finding a candidate who agrees with you or one who can beat Trump?” To me, at this point, that seems like a false choice, because we don’t know who can beat Trump yet.

The conventional wisdom says that Trump has abandoned a lot of traditional Republican values, so there should be a large bucket of moderate Republican and Independent voters who Democrats could flip with the right candidate and policies. (David Brooks claims to be one.) The 2018 results seemed to confirm that, as moderate Democratic candidates flipped House seats in a lot of suburban districts. (538 calls these the Romney/Clinton districts.) Presumably they got votes from educated professionals (often women) who used to consider themselves Republicans.

On the other hand, consider this point Pete Buttigieg made to CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday:

If we were sitting here in 2007 saying let’s find somebody so electable, so palatable, so easy for swing voters to get comfortable with that he can carry Indiana for Democrats. I’m not sure people would have said Obama.

But Obama did carry Indiana, which Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton never managed to do. So I think it’s easy to imagine that we know more than we actually do about how 2020 will play out. People will tell you that Democrats are surrendering Ohio or Iowa or somesuch state if they nominate a progressive like Warren or a non-white like Harris or Castro. But who really knows?

There are polls, of course. One recent poll had Biden beating Trump by 13 points, Sanders winning by 9, Harris 8, Warren 7, and Buttigieg 5. But all that could change really fast. (Just a month before the election, Hillary was ahead of Trump by 14 points in one head-to-head poll.) Most Americans have never thought seriously about a Buttigieg/Trump or Harris/Trump match-up, so why should we believe that the opinions they express now mean anything?

That’s why I watched the debates thinking about more than just who I agree with. I was also trying to figure out who is good at this game. Who can handle the back-and-forth of debating? Which candidates can make people listen to them and take them seriously? Who has a vision that, if people do listen to it, they’ll find compelling?

Nothing in Obama’s 2007 resume picked him out as the guy who could carry Indiana or come within a whisker of taking North Carolina. But if you saw him speak to a crowd or debate his rivals, it was obvious that he could play this game.

What the candidates needed to do. Going into the debates, candidates fell into three general categories:

  1. ones you know well: Biden, Sanders, and (to a lesser extent) Warren
  2. ones you’ve heard of if you’ve been paying attention: Harris, Buttigieg, Booker, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, and maybe a few others
  3. ones whose names you might recognize in print (maybe), but you probably couldn’t come up with if you saw their pictures.

Success meant different things in each category.

  • Category 3 candidates just needed to get on the map. They’re racing to become relevant before their seed money runs out. If they said something that made you google them, they succeeded.
  • Category 2 candidates needed to prove they belong on stage with the well-known candidates. A category-2 candidate can play a somewhat longer game than a category-3 candidate. If you came away thinking “I could see that person as President”, that was a successful performance.
  • Category 1 candidates had a chance to complete the sale. If you were already leaning towards one of them, a good performance could cement your support, and possibly upgrade you from a silent supporter to a donor or volunteer. They needed to reinforce your prior ideas about their virtues, avoid a major gaffe, and put your doubts to rest.

Several candidates “won”. When you look at things that way, you realize that it was possible for many people to “win” the debate simultaneously. [2] My impression was that among the category-3 candidates, the big winner was Julián Castro. People were definitely not talking about him before the debate, and afterward they were. I think Tulsi Gabbard made her rep by taking out Tim Ryan on Afghanistan. [3] (I think Ryan is toast.) I thought Eric Swalwell’s pass-the-torch theme fell flat. (As Marco Rubio discovered in 2016, you don’t get credit for your youth if you don’t have any new ideas. And “We need new ideas” is not a new idea.) None the moderate candidates really broke out, but some (Bennet, say) might have positioned themselves to claim the center lane if Biden collapses.

In category 2, Kamala Harris was the big winner, with Cory Booker also having a good night. On Thursday, Kamala went toe-to-toe with front-runner Joe Biden and scored. The night before, Booker looked generally solid and impressive.

I feel like Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg lived to fight another day. Neither was a star, but both looked like substantial candidates. (Buttigieg had an issue to face — the police shooting in South Bend — and he did it forthrightly.) Beto O’Rourke, on the other hand, amplified people’s doubts rather than quelling them.

I hesitate to comment at all on Kirsten Gillibrand, because watching her evokes a sexist response that I can’t seem to turn off. She may be saying something perfectly presidential, but she always looks and sounds like a lightweight to me. I don’t know if it’s the dumb-blond stereotype or what, but I have to keep reminding myself to listen to her and judge her fairly. (None of the other female candidates strike me this way, and I have no idea whether other men share this reaction to Gillibrand.)

In category 1, Biden had to have lost ground. He avoided any fatal gaffes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is still the leader in the next round of polls (which should appear in a few days), but if you had doubts about him before, you have more doubts now. Meanwhile, Bernie was Bernie. If you liked him before, you still like him now, but I doubt he convinced many new people.

Elizabeth Warren hadn’t been seen on this kind of stage before, so she had the most to prove; and I think she did. She still needs to learn some debate-craft (like look at the camera — not the moderator — when the question is being read). But she was poised and well-spoken. Her signature virtues of commitment and authenticity came through well. If you went in thinking “I like Warren’s ideas, but I don’t know … ” she might have made a believer out of you.

Here’s some snap-polling from 538 and Morning Consult. The interviews were done immediately after the debate, so I don’t think they captured the full effect, which doesn’t hit until people start comparing notes with each other.

Black candidates and black voters. A similar dynamic is playing out for both Harris and Booker, who are the black candidates in the race. One of the big questions is where the black electorate — which makes up a substantial portion of the Democratic primary electorate, and is an actual majority of Democrats in most southern states — is going to settle.

Historically, blacks have been “conservative” voters in the sense that they are slow to change their loyalties. If they feel that they have a relationship with a candidate, they tend to stick by him or her rather than go for the fresh face making big promises. (Unsurprisingly, Mayor Pete has essentially zero black support so far.) Everyone remembers how much black support Barack Obama eventually had, but forgets that most of those supporters arrived fairly late — mainly after his Iowa victory proved that white people would vote for him.

At this point in 2007, Hillary Clinton was getting a lot of black support in the polls, just as Joe Biden is now. Bernie Sanders couldn’t pry that support away from her, and blacks in South Carolina and the subsequent southern primaries saved Clinton’s candidacy after Sanders’ early win in New Hampshire.

Prior to this week’s debates, an Economist/YouGov poll (Question 46) had Biden with 39% of the black vote, compared to Harris with 5% and Booker with 4%. Clearly, black voters weren’t just looking to see if there was a black candidate in the race. I suspect they are paying special attention to Harris and Booker, but they’ll have to be convinced to move away from Biden.

I’ll be watching the next set of polls to see if the debate convinced them. In particular, Harris’ jab — that Biden was opposing busing at a time when Harris herself was being bused — looked very effective. (Of course, I’m a white guy judging this from the outside.) Biden’s response — that he only opposed busing imposed by the federal government, not community-generated plans like the one Harris benefited from — was unconvincing to anybody who knows the history. Federal intervention was necessary precisely because so many communities resisted school integration. Many communities integrated “voluntarily” only out of fear that the federal government might take the decision out of their hands.

Who can play this game? Which of these people can I picture doing well in a campaign against Trump? [4] The candidates that impressed me in those terms were Harris [5] and Warren. I think either one would look good next to Trump: Warren is a truth-teller where Trump is a bullshitter. Harris is a bulldog prosecutor who will make her points and won’t be distracted. Both of them have an authentic toughness that will show up Trump’s phony bluster.

In a purely physical sense, I think Cory Booker would look good against Trump. At 6’2″, Booker is shorter than Trump’s claimed height (6’3″) but taller than Trump is in reality. (I see something symbolic in that.) Booker is younger and fitter than Trump, and makes a more imposing physical presence. (Trump would not stalk Booker on the debate stage the way he stalked Clinton, lest Booker turn and face him. It’s a simian thing.) He also radiates a dignity that would contrast well with Trump’s sleaziness.

That said, everyone should remember that it’s still early. Recall the 2012 Republican race: Mitt Romney was the early front-runner, but a series of candidates-of-the-week had their moments and briefly passed him: Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. But Romney ultimately was nominated. The same thing could happen with Biden this year.


[1] Author Marianne Williamson stood out as the least “presidential” in the field, making a number of statements that sounded more New-Agey than Democratic. Like this from her closing statement:

So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me please. You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So, I sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field and, sir, love will win.

But even she had some important things to say about policy. For example, she identified one reason why Americans spend so much on health care: the unhealthy diet pushed on us by Big Agriculture and subsidized by the US government.

What we need to talk about is why so many Americans have unnecessary chronic illnesses so many more compared to other countries and that gets back into not just the big Pharma, not just health insurance companies, it has to do with chemical policies, it has to do with environmental policies, it has to do with food policies, it has to do with drug policies.

If you want that message in more traditional academic terms, check out this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

[2] Friday, Rachel Maddow made the case that each of the 20 candidates had some particular moment they could point to with pride and build on going forward. Not sure I would go that far.

[3] During the debate I kept asking myself: “Wait. Why don’t I like Tulsi Gabbard?” Then I did some googling and remembered: She’s Putin’s favorite Democrat, probably because she likes to downplay the significance of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Since Gabbard announced her intention to run on Jan. 11, there have been at least 20 Gabbard stories on three major Moscow-based English-language websites affiliated with or supportive of the Russian government: RT, the Russian-owned TV outlet; Sputnik News, a radio outlet; and Russia Insider, a blog that experts say closely follows the Kremlin line. The CIA has called RT and Sputnik part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.” …

Coverage of other Democratic presidential hopefuls in pro-Kremlin media has been for the most part perfunctory, limited to candidates’ announcements or summaries of their relative prospects.

A Truthdig article defending her against the Putin’s-favorite charge included this paragraph:

Gabbard’s run for president invites any number of legitimate criticisms. Her past jeremiads against “radical Islam” have reportedly earned the praise of Steve Bannon, and she has professed a curious admiration for India’s Hindu right; the LGBT community remains leery of her candidacy despite her support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act; meanwhile, her anti-interventionism can appear “shot through with a pernicious nationalism,” as Branko Marcetic observes in Jacobin. 

[4] People are way too quick to jump to the question: “How will he or she do in a debate against Trump?” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Trump decided not to debate. He’d have some BS reason for chickening out — like his reasons for not talking to Bob Mueller (even though he claimed he wanted to) — and his followers would take whatever-it-was as The Truth.

[5] Prior to the debate, I hadn’t been impressed with Harris, despite all the political insiders who seemed very impressed. In her CNN town hall in April, she seemed tentative. Way too many questions got a non-commital answer like “We need to have that conversation.” At the time, she didn’t look like the right candidate to rally the country against Trump.

This week she did look like that candidate. We’ll see if that transformation holds.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The Supreme Court term ended with two bombshells: the gerrymandering and census cases. John Roberts wrote both opinions. The gist: Roberts is still on board with the partisan Republican minority-rule plan, but there are levels of bad faith even he is not willing to tolerate from this administration. Meanwhile, Thomas, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Alito continue to be Trump rubber stamps, holding that the courts are obligated to defer to the executive branch’s judgments (at least until a Democrat gets elected).

The first round of Democratic debates happened. I thought the 20 candidates collectively made a good showing, and several individual candidates accomplished what they came to do. Meanwhile, Republican dirty tricks have started against both Biden and Harris.

Mistreatment of families on our southern border stayed in the public consciousness. Congress passed the Senate’s version of humanitarian relief rather than the House’s. Courts continue to block Trump’s “emergency” diversion of funds to build his wall.

This week’s first featured article will be my reaction to the debates. That should be out between 8 and 9 EDT. I’m still trying to put together a Supreme Court article, but I still have a lot of work to do and don’t know when it will be out. Whenever it does appear, the weekly summary should show up an hour or so later.

Unimaginable Reality

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about Iran

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

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

Instead, we launched a cyberattack and imposed more sanctions.

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

Nobody seems too sure what happens next.


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

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

and Trump’s campaign launch

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with some perspective

I love these change-of-scale videos.

Concentrating on the Border

Whatever we decide to call the camps where we detain immigrants, they are already a disgrace to our nation. If we don’t do something, they will probably get worse.


This week America’s talking heads argued about a label: Should the places where the Trump administration is detaining immigrants be called “concentration camps”? Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the term (she wasn’t the first), and then pundits inside the Fox News bubble began demanding she apologize: to Trump, to Jews, to history, and so on.

As so often happens, the perpetrator became the victim. The media hasn’t devoted nearly as much time to the real victims — the immigrants (many of them asylum-seekers who have followed the law and done nothing wrong) being herded into camps of dubious safety and hygiene — as they have to the Trumpists howling with outrage. Instead of “What is happening on the border?” our focus has been on “Is it fair to call them concentration camps?”

I will not get snarky about this, because Alexandra Petri has already done that very well. (“If we do not use the right words for this, we might think that something terrible was happening.”) But I will point out that we had a very similar debate (including some of the same people, i.e., Liz Cheney) during the Bush administration: Should “enhanced interrogation” techniques (water-boarding, beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation, extreme heat and cold — sometimes resulting in death) count as torture. Instead of discussing exactly what our country was doing to people we had captured, we argued about a word. Those who felt injured by that word often got more sympathy than the people they were (or were not) torturing.

So what is happening on the border? To a large extent we don’t know. In part, this is why the cable news shows have focused on semantics: It’s easier to find talking heads willing to shout at each other about the proper use of words than to get solid information about how the U.S. is treating people who come here fleeing violence in their home countries.

The National Immigration Justice Center writes:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is notoriously obscure about the systems it uses to detain immigrants in the United States. Without a court order, it is rare that DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) divulges any details about where its jails and prisons are located, who or how many people are held there, or any details about how they are managed — including how much taxpayers spend to keep them open, and who gets that money.

But at least we can get some population totals. The Detention Watch Network says:

The average daily population of detained immigrants increased from approximately 5,000 in 1994, to 19,000 in 2001, and to over 39,000 in 2017.

More recent estimates, presumably unofficial, place the detainee population at 52,000 and rising (despite a congressional limit of 45,000 and a goal of 40,000).

Is this explosive growth necessary? No. The number of people arriving at the border without visas has been high lately, but fundamentally that’s not the reason so many people are detained. Vox explains.

During [Trump’s] first week in office, he signed an executive order that declared nearly every unauthorized immigrant in the US a “priority” for deportation. (In practice, most of the people the Trump administration has chosen to detain have been immigrants with past criminal convictions or charges — though plenty of those charges aren’t serious enough to require mandatory detention under the law.) The executive order also removed some of ICE’s flexibility to decide which immigrants it was most important to keep in detention.

This, plus the rise in people coming into the US who can’t immediately be deported because they’re children or families, seeking asylum, or both, means Trump has pushed the detainee population to record highs.

But most of those asylum-seeking children and families don’t have to be detained either. In fact, routinely detaining asylum-seekers may be a violation of international law. The Just Security blog notes:

Crucially, international bodies have made clear that detention of asylum seekers must be a measure of last resort, not a default practice imposed automatically or as a broad rule for a large category of people.

Deterring asylum applicants or discouraging future migration is not a lawful basis for depriving an individual migrant of liberty, either under international law (see Detention Guidelines at para. 32) or under U.S. law (see the preliminary injunction issued in RILR v. Johnson).

The administration’s argument for detaining asylum-seekers rests on two dubious notions: (1) All unauthorized immigrants are threats to public safety; and (2) if asylum-seekers are released, they won’t show up for their hearings and will vanish into the immigrant underground.

The first is the baseless propaganda Trump has been pushing since he came down the escalator, and the second is provably false. Syracuse University’s TRAC Project (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) reports that families who are given legal counsel overwhelmingly do show up for their hearings.

TRAC found that with rare exception virtually every family attended their court hearings when they had representation. Appearance rates at the initial hearing were 99.9 percent. This is in contrast to appearance rates for unrepresented families of 81.6 percent.

Why does an attorney make a difference? Because confusion and miscommunication, not a desire to flout American law, are the main causes of missed hearings. It turns out that the same government that can’t find the kids it has stolen also has trouble delivering notifications to the right places.

When a family doesn’t show up, it does not necessarily mean they had intended to “skip” their hearing. Some immigrants who don’t appear simply have not received notification of their hearing. Others may receive a written notice, but the notice may have been in English which they couldn’t read.

In short, the “reasons” the administration gives are just pretexts. It detains a lot of immigrants because it wants to detain a lot of immigrants.

Deterrence. That last sentence sounds ridiculous, because why would the government want to create such a big headache for itself? The point of detaining tens of thousands of immigrants in unpleasant and unhealthy conditions, rather than letting them live and work in the US while they wait for their hearings, is to deter other foreigners from coming here. (Extra cash for the private prison industry is just a bonus.) So life should be harsh for those awaiting an asylum hearing, and the harsher the better.

Numerous government officials have talked about “deterrence”, and Trump himself promotes being “rough” or “tough” with asylum-seekers to the point of breaking the law. (“When you do these things we have to do,” he complained to Fox Business Network, “they end up arresting Border Patrol people.”)

This is the most important thing to understand about America’s immigrant detention camps: They’re supposed to be unpleasant. It’s not just that systems are overwhelmed (though they are) or that rogue employees misbehave (though they do). Mistreatment of these immigrants is intentional. We’re making an example of them in order to teach the oppressed people of the world a lesson: “Don’t come here, because we’ll be as nasty to you as we’re being to them.”

New information. Eventually, though, a few media outlets started getting past the AOC/Liz Cheney exchanges and giving us some new information about the camps.

This week, for example, we learned about conditions at the border station in Clint, Texas, where hundreds of children are being held.

Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.

Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.

This is not an oversight. In fact, government lawyers have argued in court that a previous court order that children be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions did not require that the government provide them with soap or toothbrushes, that they have beds to sleep on, or that they be given clean water or adequate quantities of food.

The government knows what it is doing. The cruelty is intentional.

Family separation. The crown jewel in the administration’s program of deterrence has been family separation, which sends the message: “Don’t come here, because we’ll take your kids away and lose them in our system.” That policy was an experiment for about a year, and then was rolled out nationally. Acting Assistant HHS Secretary Steven Wagner said:

We expect that the new policy will result in a deterrence effect, we certainly hope that parents stop bringing their kids on this dangerous journey and entering the country illegally. So we are prepared to continue to expand capacity as needed.

The Trump zero-tolerance policy meant that everyone who surrendered or was caught at the border would be detained. The system for processing asylum claims had an enormous backlog, but court rulings stipulated that minors couldn’t be held more than 20 days. So detaining the adults meant separating them from their children.

Mothers and fathers, most from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, went to jail on charges of misdemeanor illegal entry or felony re-entry. Their children were reclassified as “unaccompanied” and sent into a network of shelters scattered across the country

In all, more than 4,000 children were taken in this manner. Many were not tracked properly, and their parents had a difficult time finding them again once their cases were resolved. In April, the government was estimating it might take two years for some children to be returned.

If you doubt the cruelty of this policy, you should read two articles the New York Times published this week: One is about Baby Constantin, a four-month-old Romanian refugee taken when his father sought asylum for them at the Mexican border.

it would be months before his parents saw him again. Before then, his father would be sent for psychiatric evaluation in a Texas immigration detention center because he couldn’t stop crying; his mother would be hospitalized with hypertension from stress. Constantin would become attached to a middle-class American family, having spent the majority of his life in their tri-level house on a tree-lined street in rural Michigan, and then be sent home. Now more than a year and a half old, the baby still can’t walk on his own, and has not spoken.

His father fell victim to a scam that apparently has been played on a large number of asylum-seekers.

Two months into his detention, an immigration officer came to Mr. Mutu with an offer. As he understood it, if he gave up his claim for asylum, he would be deported back to Romania with Constantin. He agreed, and on June 3, 2018, he was released from his cell and loaded into a van.

He looked everywhere for Constantin and asked the officers where his son was, but was not given a clear answer. At the airport, he refused to board without the baby. The immigration officers, he said, told him that Constantin would be handed to him once he had taken his seat. But the plane lifted off and the baby never came.

In the second article, the same NYT reporter (Caitlin Dickerson) interviews a woman who helped care for Constantin: Alma Acevedo, a 24-year-old who worked for Bethany Christian Services, a foster care and adoption agency that has a federal contract to house immigrant children. It was her first job out of college.

Ms. Acevedo was just settling into the role when things suddenly became more chaotic, in the late summer of 2017. Unlike the teenagers she was used to working with, who had intentionally crossed the border alone, the separated children who began to arrive were inconsolable when they reached her. Each new one seemed to traumatize the rest all over again. “It was horrible,” she said. “We could not do work. It was just a classroom full of crying kids all day.”

… Most days after work, she cried in her car before she left the parking lot. She checked the news on her phone constantly, watching CNN until she went to bed, hoping to find out when the family separations would end.

But they ended, right? Not exactly. You can be forgiven for not knowing that, because a year ago, after a couple months of bad publicity, Trump signed an executive order that purported to end the policy, and a judge ordered that the children be returned.

But remember: The family separation policy didn’t come from nowhere. It came from a desire to be cruel to immigrants, in order to strike fear into the hearts of similar people planning to come here. None of that has changed. The administration separated families not because it needed to, but because it wanted to. It still wants to, and so it finds ways to do so.

Michele Goldberg reports:

To continue separating families, immigration agents appear to be taking advantage of a loophole in the court decision. The injunction doesn’t apply when parents have criminal histories or communicable diseases, which might require them to be quarantined away from their children. Nor does it explicitly apply when children are accompanied by relatives like siblings or grandparents rather than parents, unless those relatives are their legal guardians. And it permits family separation when a parent is deemed a danger to the child.

On the surface, these exceptions seem perfectly reasonable, particularly given the threat of human trafficking. But [Anthony] Enriquez, a lawyer [for Catholic Charities], said they “left a big gaping hole that the government is driving a truck straight through.”

“Criminal history” or “disease” didn’t have to be anything actually dangerous, because the government was looking for pretexts, not reasons.

For example, a 6-month-old was taken from his father because the father had a conviction for marijuana possession. Another dad lost his kid because he admitted to a conviction for driving with an expired license.

In some cases, the parents hadn’t been convicted of anything at all, but border agents claimed that they had gang affiliations. In other instances, agents stretched the definition of “communicable diseases” to apply to situations that don’t involve quarantine. …  Enriquez represented a child who was sent to New York after her mother was hospitalized for a leg injury in California. Even after the mother was discharged and released from immigration custody, Enriquez said, the government balked at returning her daughter to her until he threatened to sue.

But are they concentration camps? So OK. Now that we have discussed what our country is doing, maybe we can spare a little time to think about what to call it.

We have camps where we keep thousands of people who have done nothing wrong. We could just let them live normal lives while they wait for hearings, but instead we have made their lives unpleasant because that serves our purpose: It is supposed to intimidate other people out of coming here.

Should we call them concentration camps?

Letting that term roll out of our mouths seems like an awesome judgment, as perhaps it should. The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen (who has much experience with Russians balking at comparing Putin’s dictatorship to Stalin’s) explains:

We learn to think of history as something that has already happened, to other people. Our own moment, filled as it is with minutiae destined to be forgotten, always looks smaller in comparison. As for history, the greater the event, the more mythologized it becomes. Despite our best intentions, the myth becomes a caricature of sorts. Hitler, or Stalin, comes to look like a two-dimensional villain—someone whom contemporaries could not have seen as a human being. The Holocaust, or the Gulag, are such monstrous events that the very idea of rendering them in any sort of gray scale seems monstrous, too. This has the effect of making them, essentially, unimaginable. In crafting the story of something that should never have been allowed to happen, we forge the story of something that couldn’t possibly have happened. …

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

But Anna Lind-Guzik, a self-described Jewish historian, says that we have to take the comparison seriously.

Applying the term “concentration camp” to the indefinite detention without trial of thousands of civilians in inhumane conditions — under armed guard and without adequate provisions or medical care — is not just appropriate, it’s necessary. Invoking the word does not demean the memory of the Holocaust. Instead, the lessons of the Holocaust will be lost if we refuse to engage with them.

It is true that the immigrant detention camps are not death camps, like Auschwitz or Dachau had become by 1945. But (as an excellent article in Esquire notes) the term concentration camp is older than the Nazis. Historian Jonathan Hyslop, author of The Invention of Concentration Camps attributes the idea to four sources, all in the late 19th or early 20th centuries: the Spanish in Cuba (during the Ten Years War), British in South Africa (Boer War), Germans in Southwest Africa, and Americans in the Philippines.

In each case, a colonial power was fighting guerrilla rebels who had considerable support from a widely dispersed population. “Concentrating” the rebels’ potential supporters in camps allowed the imperial soldiers to assume that any local they met outside the camps was an enemy.

These camps were not intended to be death camps. (Quite the opposite, they “protected” the population both from the rebels and from the empire’s own search-and-destroy missions.) But nonetheless, conditions were harsh and got harsher with time. Large numbers of people died.

Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, says:

There was very little in the way of targeted violence. Instead, people died from poor planning, overloaded facilities and unwillingness to reverse policy, even when it became apparent the policy wasn’t working, inability to get medical care to detainees, poor food quality, contagious diseases, showing up in an environment where it became almost impossible to get control of them.

The life cycle. Even the Nazi concentration camps did not become the death factories we now remember until late in their life cycle. When Dachau opened in 1933, it was a harsh prison for Hitler’s political enemies — at that time, mainly Communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists. The longer it lasted, the harsher it became. Jews were sent there in large numbers after Kristallnacht in 1938. The Final Solution — the plan to exterminate all the Jews the Nazis could get their hands on — wasn’t formulated until 1941.

Our camps are early in their life cycle. It would be a mistake to imagine that they are already as bad as they will eventually get.

The people in these camps belong to a class (“illegal immigrants”) that our President routinely dehumanizes. Rather than human beings with human rights, or even refugees with recognized rights under our laws, they are regularly denigrated as “animals” or “invaders” or an “infestation“. When a Trump supporter yelled “Shoot them!” during a rally last month, Trump treated it as a joke (and the crowd cheered). Another recent Esquire article elaborates:

The demonization of The Other is a tale as old as America, but Donald Trump has returned the nation to dangerous places in 2019, questioning not just the Americanness, but the very humanity, of Hispanic immigrants and Muslims. He does so by attacking these groups’ violent outliers—the drug dealers and coyotes and ISIS—but these are the only examples of these groups he has ever discussed. There has never been one word about the Guatemalan mother who flees here with her child and works for decades cleaning somebody’s house. It’s only ever the murderers and rapists, and if they’re “invading” your country, any response is justified.

Our stated policy is to be cruel to these dehumanized people, in order to deter other people like them. We are gathering them into camps that are largely hidden from the general public.

It would be amazing if conditions there did not get worse. Caring people (like Alma Acevedo) are not going to want to work there, and such compassionate people who do work there will either harden or leave. Sadists, on the other hand, will be drawn there like flies to roadkill. Out of the public view, ordinary people will find themselves tempted to do incredible things, as ordinary American soldiers did at Abu Ghraib.

So should that count as a concentration camp? I can imagine an argument for saying no: We should reserve the term concentration camp for only the most extreme examples, the ones that are truly Auschwitz-like.

But at best, our own camps are proto-concentration-camps. They are on the concentration-camp spectrum, if still a great distance from the 1945 version of Auschwitz. But it is early in their life cycle, the trends are not good, and who knows how far we will let them go before their story is over.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Apparently we came within ten minutes of war with Iran last week. But John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are still Trump’s top foreign policy advisers, so maybe this week.

The week’s biggest talking-head argument, though, was about whether AOC should have called Trump’s immigrant detainment centers “concentration camps”. For a while it looked like we were going to do the usual thing: get distracted by the Right’s bad-faith outrage and lose track of the original issue. But as the week wore on, the mainstream media started paying some real attention to the conditions in those camps. Call them whatever you want, but don’t stop paying attention to them. By any name, they are a national disgrace.

The featured post this week will try to organize what we learned about the camps this week. It’s called “Concentrating on the Border”, and it should be out around 10 EDT.

The weekly summary covers the near-miss with Iran, the launch of Trump’s re-election campaign, the latest sexual assault charge against the President of the United States, Jon Stewart’s well-deserved attack on Mitch McConnell, the slavery reparations debate, and a few other things. It should be out between noon and 1.

Novel Concepts

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

Ellen Weintraub, Chair of the Federal Elections Commission

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

Donald Trump

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

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

This week everybody was talking about lawlessness in the Trump administration

See the featured post.

and the Mexico deal

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

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

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

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

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

and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Yglesias sums up in a tweetstorm:

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

and Hong Kong

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

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

and the first Democratic presidential debate

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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


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


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


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

but I went to an impeachment rally

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

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

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


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

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

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

and let’s close with something mythic

Fenrir contemplates swallowing the Moon.

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

The Lawless Administration

According to the Constitution, the duties of the President include “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”.  But from the beginning of his administration, Donald Trump has taken the same attitude towards the law as president that he did when he was a New York real estate tycoon: Not “What does the law say I have to do?”, but “Who’s going to make me do it?”

No previous president or administration has had such a disregard for the law, and he seems to be getting more brazen about it. This week included so much lawlessness I need to list it before I go into detail on any of it.

  • Trump announced that there is nothing wrong with doing what he was accused of doing in 2016: accepting help from a foreign government during an election campaign. The law may say otherwise, but so what?
  • An official watchdog group (whose head Trump himself appointed) reported that Kellyanne Conway has repeatedly and brazenly violated the Hatch Act, which bans federal employees from partisan political activity while performing their official duties. The report recommended that she be fired. The White House Counsel rejected the report, and Conway will continue in her job. She has neither apologized nor promised to obey the law in the future.
  • Scandals continued to pile up around Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose stock in a major road-paving company was long ago identified as a conflict of interest, who attempted to use her position to benefit her family’s company, and who maintains a special pipeline for transportation projects in the home state of her husband, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Friday night, MSNBC’s Ali Veshi (subbing for Rachel Maddow), examined Trump’s long history of telling people to break the law. He mentioned these incidents:

(Veshi might also have mentioned incidents during the campaign, when Trump urged his audiences to beat up protesters. Or his instructions that his administration should defy “all the subpoenas“, regardless of their lawful authority.) In each case, intermediate officials felt obligated to tell the same people to obey the law rather than do what the President just told them to do.


In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Wednesday, Trump said that he would “listen” to any foreign government that offered his campaign dirt on his opponent, and that “maybe” he would call the FBI. But then he elaborated in ways that made the call to the FBI seem unlikely:

I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do. Oh, give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.

Both Attorney General Barr and FBI Director Wray have said that a campaign receiving offers of help from foreign governments should call the FBI, but Trump explicitly rejected that opinion. “The FBI director is wrong,” he said.

In essence, Trump has announced to foreign governments that he is open for business. If they have anything on his rivals, he wants to hear it. Will he ask questions about whether they broke any laws to get it, as Russia did when it hacked DNC computers? He didn’t say.

Democrats in the Senate offered a bill to require campaigns to report offers of foreign assistance, but Republicans blocked it, as they have blocked every attempt to stop a repeat of Russia’s 2016 interference. It’s hard to come up with an explanation other than the harsh one: Republicans are counting on Russia to help them again in 2020.


When Elaine Chao took office as Transportation Secretary, she pledged to the Office of Government Ethics that she would sell her stock in Vulcan Materials, which the company’s web page describes like this:

Vulcan Materials Company is the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates—primarily crushed stone, sand and gravel—and a major producer of aggregates-based construction materials, including asphalt and ready-mixed concrete.

Given that the Transportation Department oversees the interstate highway system, the conflict of interest is obvious. She in fact didn’t sell the shares until two weeks ago, after the Wall Street Journal pointed out that she was still holding the shares — whose value had increased by $40,000 in the meantime.

Another obvious conflict is her family’s company, Foremost Group, which the NYT describes as “an American shipping company with deep ties to the economic and political elite in China, where most of the company’s business is centered”. The Times recently revealed that when Chao planned her first trip to China as a member of Trump’s cabinet, she asked for family members to be included in meetings with government officials.

David Rank, who had been deputy chief of mission for the State Department in Beijing, described the request as “alarmingly inappropriate”. The trip was cancelled after State Department officials raised ethical issues. Vanity Fair writes:

Though Chao has not worked for the company since the 1970s, it is the (ongoing) source of her wealth and the political wealth of her husband [Majority Leader Mitch McConnell]. In 2008 her father gave the couple a gift of as much as $25 million, while 13 members of the Chao family, including Foremost CEO Angela Chao, have given more than $1 million to McConnell’s campaigns and to PACs tied to him.

Angela Chao responded to the NYT article with a letter to the editor defending her sister, which in my opinion missed the point and denied charges that were never made.

Finally, there are the conflicts created by her marriage to Senator McConnell of Kentucky. Politico reports:

The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.

Draining the swamp indeed.


The Office of the Special Counsel (not to be confused with Bob Mueller’s office; this one is run by Trump appointee Henry Kerner, formerly a Republican congressional staffer) issued a report recommending that Kellyanne Conway be fired for repeated violations of the Hatch Act. The NYT explains:

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while they are on the job. Named for former Senator Carl A. Hatch, Democrat of New Mexico, the law has been on the books for 80 years. The act dates to Depression-era reforms intended to prevent machine politics in which patronage jobs were handed out to people who then used their positions to help keep their patrons in power.

The OSC report lists several occasions in which Conway was speaking in her official capacity (for example, giving a press interview at the White House or tweeting on a Twitter account that she also uses for official purposes) and also attacking Democrats like Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, or Elizabeth Warren.

Conway has dismissed the whole issue, and all attempts by ethics officials to work through the White House Counsel’s office have by stymied. The report concludes:

Ms. Conway’s persistent, notorious, and deliberate Hatch Act violations have created an unprecedented challenge to this office’s ability to enforce the Act, as we are statutorily charged. She has willfully and openly disregarded the law in full public view. As recently as May 29, 2019, Ms. Conway defiantly rejected the Hatch Act’s application to her activities, dismissed OSC’s 2018 findings, and flippantly stated, “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.” And she made it clear that she has no plans to cease abusing her official position to influence voters. Ms. Conway’s conduct undermines public confidence in the Executive branch and compromises the civil service system that the Hatch Act was intended to protect. Her knowing and blatant disregard for the law aggravates the severity of her numerous violations.

After the report came out, a Deadline reporter asked Conway for a reaction. She replied: “I have no reaction. Why would I give you a reaction?”

Trump has made it clear that Conway will not be fired or otherwise disciplined. The White House Counsel’s office issued a statement defending her actions, which a University of Texas Law School professor described as “fooling no one“.

In this White House, faithfully executing the laws is not seen as a priority, or even a duty. The law is something to be gotten around, not something to obey.

Socialism: What’s in a word?

The word socialism has become a little like the word God: something we can almost all believe in as long as we get to define it our own way. Depending on the speaker, socialism can mean Denmark or Venezuela or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or even the National Socialism of Hitler’s Germany. In FDR’s day Social Security was denounced as “socialism” and in JFK’s day Medicare was. Now those programs enjoy almost universal popularity. So are we all socialists now?

If socialism means buying things collectively through the government, then your local fire department is socialist, and so are the national parks and the interstate highways. Who doesn’t like them? On the other hand, if socialism means buying everything collectively, so that we eat in big government cafeterias rather than in our own kitchens and dining rooms, that would be a lot less popular. So which is it?

And if we can’t decide which it is, why are we talking about it at all?

What Bernie said. Bernie Sanders wants to have that discussion, and I don’t think any of the other Democratic candidates do. Wednesday, he gave a major speech (video, transcript) embracing socialism and attempting to define it his own way.

We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights. That is what I mean by democratic socialism.

He listed these economic rights:

  • The right to a decent job that pays a living wage
  • The right to quality health care
  • The right to a complete education
  • The right to affordable housing
  • The right to a clean environment
  • The right to a secure retirement

How others responded. Among this cycle’s Democratic candidates, none of those rights seems terribly radical. True, not every candidate would agree with all of them. The more moderate ones would see them as goals to work toward rather than rights that need to be delivered immediately. (Let’s extend quality health care to more people, even if we can’t get a universal program passed.) Each candidate would have a different interpretation of those rights (what jobs are “decent”? when is an education “complete”?), of the kinds of programs necessary to ensure them, and how to pay for those programs. But nothing on that list should inspire shocked pointing and cries of “infidel!”

All the same, nobody joined Bernie in endorsing socialism by name. Elizabeth Warren, the candidate whose policy proposals are probably closest to Sanders’, noncommittally said, “I’ll have to hear his speech.” But Warren has kept the word capitalism in her proposals (as in the Accountable Capitalism Act). She styles her program as a reform of capitalism, not a revolution that replaces it with socialism.

Other candidates were more critical.

Of the two dozen Democrats running for president, some are ready to sign on to ideas Sanders has pioneered, such as Medicare for All, but none agree with democratic socialism as a way to govern, or as a pitch that will defeat President Donald Trump. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who was booed for condemning socialism two weeks ago in a speech before the California Democratic Party, laughed at the title of Sanders’s speech when I read it to him. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado let out an exasperated chuckle. “I don’t think the American people even know what that means,” he told me. “Nobody in my town halls talks about democratic socialism versus oligarchy and authoritarianism.” When I read the title of the speech [“How Democratic Socialism Is the Only Way to Defeat Oligarchy and Authoritarianism”] to Senator Kamala Harris of California on Monday after an event in Dubuque, she responded with a simple “Huh.”

Republicans, on the other hand, love to talk about socialism, and to label Democratic proposals “socialist”. One favorite technique is to dismiss a Democratic proposal as “socialist” without identifying any specific flaws, as if socialism were a plague that can only be fought by quarantine. Before he officially became a politician, Ronald Reagan attacked a proposal similar to Medicare like this:

I know how I’d feel, if you, my fellow citizens, decided that to be an actor, I had to become a government employee and work in a national theater. Take it into your own occupation or that of your husband. All of us can see what happens: Once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment, from here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism — to determining his pay, and pretty soon your son won’t decide when he’s in school, where he will go, or what they will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.

So sure, the idea that Grandma can go to the hospital after she falls sounds good, but it’s socialism. Before long we’ll all be living in government dormitories.

My own view of capitalism and socialism in America. Debating socialism and capitalism, as if they were two distinct roads and we could only choose one, seems misguided to me.

When I look at America, I see capitalist and socialist economies existing side-by-side. We commonly go back and forth between them without thinking about it. Your driveway is part of the capitalist economy; the street is in the socialist realm. When your kids play in the front yard, they’re under the aegis of capitalism. If they go down to the park, they’ve crossed into socialism.

(In Debt: the first 5,000 years, David Graeber also posits an underlying communist system, which we instinctively revert to in emergencies. When the flood hits, you rescue your neighbors in your boat — without going through either a market or a government office — because you have a boat and they need rescuing. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.)

What we’re mainly arguing about when we talk about socialism is where the boundary between the two realms will be. Should our kids be educated in public schools (socialism) or private schools (capitalism)? If we raise taxes to improve the library (socialism), maybe I won’t be able to afford to buy as many books (capitalism).

In my view, the balance has shifted too far in the capitalist direction, and needs to shift back. Market forces are doing a really bad job of organizing our health care (as I see in my own life). Pro-capitalist Republicans deny climate change because capitalism has no answer for it.

So while I have no desire to destroy the capitalist system root and branch, I want to move the boundary to shrink the portion of the economy it commands. I don’t think we need public dormitories and cafeterias, but I also don’t think we want capitalists manipulating the insulin market.

What’s in a word? Whatever politicians say in their speeches, only a few libertarian radicals want to get rid of socialism entirely, and only a few communist radicals want to get rid of capitalism entirely. We’re going to continue living in a mixed economy and arguing about what activities belong in each realm. So the idea that we’re going to accept or reject socialism once and for all is unrelated to the world we actually live in.

But we keep trying to have that conversation, and it seems that every politician but Sanders (Republican and Democrat alike) has come to the same conclusion: Democrats are better off talking about their specific policies — universal health care, free college, sustainable energy, etc. — than having an abstract argument about capitalism vs. socialism.

So why does Bernie want to have that argument? I think the word socialism symbolizes a point he wants to make, something that’s key to his political identity. The argument about socialism has become a metaphor for a more nebulous question: How screwed up are things, what caused it, and how big a change is necessary to set the country on the right track again?

Joe Biden’s message is that Trump screwed things up. The country was more-or-less on the right track under Obama, and we just need to get back there. Trump’s extremism has shown Republicans what their flirting with white supremacy and subverting democratic norms leads to, and once he’s gone they’ll be more reasonable. So there’s no need to change America’s underlying system, we just need a new president — preferably one with a majority in both houses of Congress, like Obama had for his first two years.

Elizabeth Warren’s message is that the turn towards unfettered capitalism is the problem and it began around the time of the Reagan administration. She uses her personal story to say: We used to have opportunity. You could buy a house on one income. You could work your way through college and graduate without a mountain of debt. Now, irresponsible banks throw the world economy into a near-depression, and they get bailed out. CEO pay is out of control. More and more chunks of the economy are monopolies or oligopolies.

So Warren’s message is one of reform: We need to get capitalism back under control, so that it works for the many again instead of just the few.

But Sanders’ message is that America is screwed up at a much deeper level, and it was never really on the right track. In his speech, he points to FDR’s New Deal not as a time when things were going right, but as a time when people had a vision of a better system. In his speech he said:

Over eighty years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped create a government that made transformative progress in protecting the needs of working families. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion.

This is the unfinished business of the Democratic Party and the vision we must accomplish.

Unlike Trump, Bernie doesn’t think America can be made great again, because it was never really great. For a while we had a vision of greatness, but we left it unfinished. We don’t need reform, or the mere updating of old values to new circumstances. We need transformation and even revolution.

And let me also be clear, the only way we achieve these goals is through a political revolution – where millions of people get involved in the political process and reclaim our democracy by having the courage to take on the powerful corporate interests whose greed is destroying the social and economic fabric of our country.

And that, I think, is why Sanders embraces the label socialist, while other Democrats shrink away from it. To him, the word symbolizes a whole new system, a revolutionary transformation.

In short, Bernie is appealing to a level of discontent that no other candidate (except maybe Trump, who represents a vision of authoritarian revolution; I would compare him not so much with Hitler as with Franco) sees. Sanders sees a country, a political system, and an economic system that is too far gone to be reformed. Rather than build on what has come before, he prefers a blank-sheet-of-paper approach. Rather than make deals with some collection of the current power brokers, he wants a peaceful popular uprising to blow them away.

So the argument about socialism is really an argument about that extremity of discontent: How many people feel that way? Some, definitely. But are there enough of them to win a nomination and presidency?

Bernie thinks there are. Other candidates disagree — and I guess I do too. But that’s what campaigns are for: We’re going to find out.

The Monday Morning Teaser

So poof! Last week’s trade war against Mexico is over, at least for the time being. The new crisis is with Iran: Did they attack oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman? Will anyone believe us if we say they did? What will we do about it and why? In the reality-TV presidency, each week needs its cliffhanger.

But I decided that the featured post needed to be about something that isn’t part of the Trump Show, at least not directly. So I call your attention to the speech Bernie Sanders gave this week defining what he means by socialism and explaining why he thinks we need it. That post “Socialism: What’s in a word?” is about not just Sanders’ speech, but the larger context in which other candidates may agree with Sanders on specific programs but still not want to talk about socialism. Why do either Sanders or his rivals care about this label, so that Bernie wants to claim it and all the other candidates want to avoid it?

That should be out between 9 and 10 EDT.

The weekly summary starts out talking about the most recent examples of Trump administration lawlessness: He says he would accept the help of foreign governments in the 2020 campaign, and Kellyanne Conway will continue violating the Hatch Act without consequences. From there it will cover the Mexico deal, such as it is; what we know about the Iran situation; the demonstrations in Hong Kong; the upcoming Democratic debate; and a few other things, before closing with something I haven’t found yet.

Oh, and I went to an impeachment rally in Boston Saturday. I don’t think this is going to happen without people in the streets.

The summary should be out noonish, or maybe a little later.