Monday, May 20, 2019
Ran a day late on this one, partly because I went long on the intro,
but also because I found so many links in my early trawl through the
usual sources I wasn't able to finish my rounds, then found even more
when I tried to wrap up. I'm sure it's always the case that an extra
day or two to let the words settle and go back and restructure would
be useful, but I've rarely felt that more than this week.
Abortion became a much hotter political issue last week, with the
passage and signing of a law in Alabama which criminalizes abortion in
all cases except when it is necessary to save the life of the woman,
with doctors risking prison terms of up to 99 years if their call on
life-saving is disputed. Much focus on this particular law centers on
the lack of any exclusion for rape and incest, which most people agree
would be reasonable grounds for abortion. (As
Phil Freeman tweeted: "Your first mistake was assuming old white
men in Alabama were against rape and incest.") But the Alabama law is
just one of many state laws Republicans have been pushing lately, all
aimed at relitigating Roe v. Wade in the Trump-packed Supreme
The "heartbeat" bills that could ban almost all abortions, passed
in four states including Ohio and Georgia, and coming soon in Missouri;
still more draconian bills are in the works, such as
A Texas bill would allow the death penalty for patients who get
I'll start this off by quoting from a Facebook post by a relative
of mine in Arkansas, Marianne Cowan Pyeatt, offering an unvarnished
glimpse of what anti-abortion Republicans are telling themselves:
All of a sudden we are supposed to believe that millions and millions
of aborted babies are the result of rape and not just a lack of
responsibility to use birth control or face the consequences if you
can't even be adult enough to take precautions. We all know that the
reason they can't make exceptions for rape is because every women
would lie and claim to be raped to get an abortion. There are morning
after pills for real rape victims or they can give the child away. No
one says they have to keep them. And the fact that this is even being
debated is because all the people who did very little for decades when
they could forget what was going on in those clinics are suddenly
facing a world where full-term babies can be murdered at birth. YOU
stupid liberals have taken it SO FAR that no decent person can ignore
it any longer. And we aren't so stupid as to believe that only
abortion of a baby could "save the mother's life" in medical
emergencies . . . we know delivery is many, many times faster. At that
point, if it dies, at least you tried and the mother is "saved" from
her life-threatening condition with no murder involved. I find it
hilarious that in insisting on that last frontier of killing babies
right up to birth has finally given people the resolve to take a stand
and right a wrong.
One thing this shows is that the fight over abortion rights is
being fought at the margins, with both sides seeking maximalist
positions, although there is nothing symmetrical about the conflict.
There is only one fanatical side to this issue: those who, like
Marianne here, want to ban all abortions. No one on the opposite
side -- and I am about as opposite as anyone gets -- wants to
terminate all pregnancies. Rather, we understand that pregnancy
is a complicated issue that affects women in many different ways,
and that there are some circumstances where some women feel they
would be better off with an abortion. We believe that this should
be a free and responsible choice, and to make this a real choice
for all women requires that we isolate it from the encumbrances
of government regulation and economic pressure.
I've long thought that conservatives and libertarians should be
strong supporters of abortion rights. Libertarians cherish freedom,
and freedom is the ability to make free choices -- among which one
of the most important is whether to bear and raise children. Not
everyone who wants children is able to have them, but safe abortion
at least makes it possible to choose not to have children. As for
conservatives, they always stress the responsibilities parenthood
infers. It would be perverse if they did not allow those who felt
themselves unable to assume the responsibility of raising children
the option of not having them. Indeed, in the past have sometimes
wanted to impose limits on the fertility of those they deemed unfit
to raise children (e.g., the forced sterilization of the eugenics
movement). Consequently, the hard turn of Republicans against free
access to abortion and birth control has always struck me as bad
faith: a political ploy, initially to capture votes of Catholics
and Southern Baptists, who had traditionally voted Democratic. I
first noticed this in Bob Dole's 1972 Senate campaign, and I never
forgave him for politicizing the issue. (He was being challenged
by William Roy, a ob/gyn who had occasionally performed abortions,
which were legal in Kansas well before Roe v. Wade. Until
that time Kansas Democrats were more likely to be anti-abortion
than Republicans. Using abortion as a partisan tactic may have
started with Nixon's 1972 "silent majority"/"southern strategy."
It was especially successful in Missouri. See
How abortion became a partisan issue in America.)
Abortion rights are desirable if there are any circumstances where
abortion is a reasonable choice. Most people recognize rape and incest
as valid reasons, as well as the health of the woman and/or the fetus.
Beyond that there arise lots of possible economic and psychological
concerns, which can only really be answered by the woman (with the
advice of anyone she chooses to consult). We generally, if not always
consistently, recognize that our freedom is rooted in a right to
privacy. Since a decision to terminate has no broader repercussions,
there is no good reason for the government to get involved. (One might
argue that a decision not to terminate might concern the state, in
that it would wind up paying for the child's education and health
care, but no one who supports abortion rights is seeking that sort
of oversight. China's "one child" policy is an example, but no one
here is arguing for the state to enforce such a thing.)
Regardless of how cynical Republican leaders were when they jumped
on the anti-abortion bandwagon, they learned to love it because it
dovetailed with the prejudices and fears they exploited (Jason Stanley
has a handy list, in his recent book, How Fascism Works), while
doing little to detract from their main objective: making the rich
richer, and building a political machine to keep the riches coming.
(Thomas Frank, in his 2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?,
tried to expose their two-faced cynicism, but he wound up only agitating
the anti-abortion mobsters into demanding more results for their votes.)
Marianne's post is full of such prejudices, even while she tries to
paper over others. But while the first line refers to the Alabama
law, she'd rather turn the tables by accusing "stupid liberals" of
wanting to kill babies the instant before birth. That would be a
symmetrically opposite point of view, but even if legal it's not a
real something anyone would do.
Some links on the Alabama law and the assault on abortion rights:
Trump and top Republicans distance themselves from Alabama's controversial
abortion law. I take this as evidence it's polling very badly. Trump
has never put much thought into abortion, and probably doesn't care, as
strange as that seems given how much impact he has had on the issue. Back
in 2016, he was asked whether women who sought abortions should be
prosecuted, and he guessed they should. That was one of the very few
instances where he took back a statement -- something he never did
when criticized for sympathizing with Nazis and other racists, or
spouting his own racist slurs on immigrants and "shithole countries."
Those are things he has deep convictions about. Anti-abortion is just
something he has to play along with because the base expects it.
Why some anti-abortion conservatives think Alabama's abortion law goes
Elizabeth Dias/Sabrina Tavernise/Alan Blinder:
'This is a wave': inside the network of anti-abortion activists winning
across the country.
Why the anti-abortion movement stopped making allowances for rape and
Abortion is morally good:
Were I still Evangelical, and still longed to end abortion, I'd have many
reasons to celebrate. When your enemies pick up your arguments and tolerate
your allies in their midst, you can be relatively confident that you've
achieved the social and political dominance that you've worked toward for
years. Milano and the DCCC have walked directly into a trap that abortion
opponents set for them, and they don't even seem to realize what they've
done. Anything less but the prioritization of women over the pregnancies
they carry cedes ground the left cannot afford to lose.
I'm an anti-abortion Christian. But Alabama's ban will do more harm than
The GOP has its final anti-abortion victory in sight: "Stripping voter
rights. Rigging the Supreme Court. Dull procedural tricks. It's all paying
off at once."
Anna North, who also wrote the three articles linked above:
Renee Bracey Sherman:
Recent abortion bans will impact poor people and people of color most.
Alabama's near-total abortion ban is the ultimate elevation of the "unborn"
The abortion fight and the pretense of precedent.
Most Alabama voters don't support their state's exemption-free abortion
Some scattered links this week:
Alexia Fernández Campbell:
Farmers are losing patience with Trump's trade war.
Trump is making the same US mistake in the Middle East yet again.
Helene Cooper/Edward Wong:
Skeptical US allies resist Trump's new claims of threats from Iran.
Meanwhile, the lame-brains in the Trump administration get carried away:
see Eric Schmitt/Julian E Barnes:
White House reviews military plans against Iran, in echoes of Iraq War.
They're talking about deploying 120,000 troops, which seems like a lot but
is actually the same number they used in 2003 to do such a bang-up job in
Iraq -- a country about one-third the size of Iran (both in area and in
population). For more details, see Fred Kaplan:
War with Iran wouldn't be like Iraq: "It would be worse."
The secret vote that could wipe away consumer rights.
Isabel Debre/Raphael Satter:
Facebook busts Israel-based campaign to disrupt elections.
'I did my best to stop American foreign policy': Bernie Sanders on
Nicholas Fandos/Maggie Haberman:
House panel investigates obstruction claims against Trump lawyers.
David A Farenthold/Jonathan O'Connell:
Trump's prized Doral resort is in steep decline, according to company
documents, showing his business problems are mounting.
Bolton in Wonderland: "The only upside to Bolton's dangerous aggression
toward Iran is that it may put him too far out in front of Trump."
America's long, rich history of pretending systemic racism doesn't
America needs a permanent anti-war movement: "Public apathy toward
relatively small-scale military actions makes war with Iran more likely."
Actually, most cities have anti-war organizations, but they don't get
enough support, especially as we're swamped with domestic crises and
more attention is paid to conventional politics (because Republicans
are so bad more people in their desperation support Democrats).
Elizabeth Warren's new policy rollout targets Pentagon corruption.
Fossil fuels are underpriced by a whopping $5.2 trillion: "We can't
take on climate change without properly pricing coal, oil, and natural
gas. But it's a huge political challenge."
Austrian government collapses over Russia scandal.
Countervailing powers: the forgotten economic idea Democrats need to
rediscover. Klein is right that hardly anyone uses the term these
days, but I grew up with it, and still refer to it often. I'm not sure
where I got the idea, but Klein starts with John Kenneth Galbraith's
1952 book, American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing
Power. The idea is to build up multiple sources of power to work
against the abuses that follow from concentrations of wealth and power.
(The maxim I learned alongside this was "power corrupts, and absolute
power corrupts absolutely.") Klein also cites a recent book, Tim Wu's
The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.
Springtime for autocrats: "How Trump just legitimized one of Europe's
most anti-democratic leaders." Hungary's Viktor Orbán visits the White
Venezuela's collapse is the worst outside of war in decades, economists
Mark Landler/Maggie Haberman/Eric Schmitt:
Trump tells Pentagon chief he does not want war with Iran. This
was the story which led Steven Colbert to exclaim, "I hope this doesn't
get taken out of context, but thank God Donald Trump is president."
Before I give Trump any credit on this score, I want to see him fire
John Bolton, and tweet about how Bolton's been subverting his efforts
to get along peacefully with the world. Even then, the fact that he
hired Bolton never boded well.
The House just passed a sweeping LGBTQ rights bill.
Why prescription drugs cost more in America: Video. Also a link to
The true story of America's sky-high prescription drug prices.
William Barr delivers chilling message to FBI for Trump. "If you
come at the king, you best not miss"?
On refugees, the Trump administration is competent and malevolent.
President Trump's new immigration proposal would be terrible for
Trump's social media bias reporting project is a data collection tool
in disguise: "Instead of cracking down on violent extremism, the
government is collecting email addresses."
United States and Venezuela: a historical background.
The fog of ambition: Review of George Packer: Our Man: Richard
Holbrooke and the End of the American Century.
The Trump economy is hurting most Americans. Statistics won't fool voters.
Bezos offers absurd and hypocritical reason for his massive space plan:
He thinks we have to sustain economic growth indefinitely, even beyond the
carrying capacity of Earth, which can only be done by escaping into space.
Which I suppose means he can't imagine post-capitalism, even though there
are dozens of books on the subject, and dozens more on sustainable economies.
Maybe he should drop in on a local book store? His scheme would be deemed
so crackpot he could never get funding from government let alone banks, but
seeing as he's on track to become Earth's first trillionaire, we're tempted
to take him seriously. That is an irony of capitalism: sometimes a blessing,
sometimes a farce.
Brian M Rosenthal:
'They were conned': how reckless loans devastated a generation of taxi
drivers. Or what happens when you allow a secondary market for a
limited number of licenses.
Trump gives up the game he's playing with Congress during Fox News
interview: "Trump admits he's relying on the courts -- not Congress --
to change policy."
Trump's reckless "treason" accusation against the FBI, explained.
Trump pardons billionaire fraudster who wrote glowing book about
him: Conrad Black, "a former media mogul and business partner,"
convicted for fraud and obstruction of justice, author of a 2016 piece
"Trump is the good guy," the pardon citing his "tremendous contributions
to business, as well as to political and historical thought." Also
pardoned at the same time, Patrick Nolan. (See Aaron Blake:
The very political pattern of Trump's pardons.) The latter article
has a number of examples, notably
Dinesh D'Souza, convicted for campaign finance fraud, author of a
number of awful books and films, inventor of the "angry Kenyan" Obama
The liberal embrace of war: "American interventionists learned a lesson
from Iraq: pre-empt the debate. Now everyone is for regime change." He
seems to have jumped the gun here, for while the liberal media heads he
cites (e.g., Rachel Maddow) readily echoed the Bolton line on Venezuela
and Iran, actual Democratic politicians have been less eager to topple
foreign regimes. Jonathan Chait points this out:
Taibbi's 'liberal embrace of war' screed cites zero liberals embracing
war. I'd score that one for Chait, although I don't fault Taibbi's
worries about Democrats enabling Republican warmongering. As for the
"liberal" media, also see: James North:
US mainstream media is contributing to rising risk of war with Iran.
Nor is Chait above concocting his own shady, twisted titles:
Bernie Sanders wants to destroy the best schools poor urban kids have.
He means charter schools, which only succeed (relatively) in places where
public schools have been grossly neglected (partly by politicians moving
funds to charter schools). For more on Sanders' plan, see Dylan Scott:
Bernie Sanders rolls out education plan that cracks down on charter
schools; also Nikhil Goyal:
Bernie's plan to save public schools.
An expert's 7 principles for solving America's housing crisis.
The raging controversy over Ronald Sullivan, Harvey Weinstein, and Harvard,
Bernie Sanders and AOC's plan to crack down on high-interest loans,
explained: They call it the Stop Loan Sharks Act, by capping
interest on things like credit cards at 15% (still sounds high to
Trump's puzzling trade war with China, sort of explained: Useful
survey of Trump's side of the tariff war, credits Trump with more
smarts than the evidence suggests: "Precisely because the trade war
is an inherently lose-lose situation, any possible resolution of it
is a win." But that assumes that the trade war will end some day,
and that everyone will have forgotten about the costs of starting
Joe Biden's surprisingly controversial claim that Trump is an aberration,
explained. Cites some critiques:
There's an interesting chart here showing that
only a quarter of Clinton's ads primarily centered on policy,
"a much lower number than any previous 21st-century campaign."
That slack was made up by attacking Trump personally, trying to
isolate him from the Republican Party, which not only didn't do
Clinton much good, it also didn't help Democrats down ticket.
Compare that to 2018, when Democrats focused on policy issues
(like health care).
Kamala Harris wants public defenders to get paid as much as
The disaster aid fight shows just how unprepared Congress is to deal with
the effects of climate change. As an engineer, one of my core beliefs
is that it's much cheaper and much more effective to prevent faults than
to repair and compensate for disasters. But despite the title, that isn't
the core problem here. (Even if it were, some natural disasters are way
beyond our power to prevent. And while there is no doubt that climate
change increases the number and severity of disasters, there is no quick
and easy solution to that, either.) The immediate problem is that at the
same time we're being hit with more and more disasters, Republicans have
decided they don't want to pay for disaster relief, largely because it
runs counter to their belief that government shouldn't involve itself in
helping people (at least not Puerto Ricans).