Sunday, April 9, 2023

Speaking of Which

The Republican Party had what can only be described as a psychotic breakdown last week. Trump's arrest and arraignment was the big story. It could be read as a cautionary note that his contempt for law and order will not prevail, and indeed the muted response on the streets of New York suggests that he's on his way to being forgotten. But his post-arraignment speech at Mar-A-Lago, and the reactions of virtually all Republican speakers, show that the Party faithful still follow his lead. Not since the Confederate Secession of 1860-61 have so many showed such contempt for American and its people.

Many examples follow. Nor are they limited to the uncritical base of Trump supporters that are increasingly dubbed MAGAs, the slogan's former aspirations having turned into our current nightmare. We've long known that Republicans mentally divide the country into good and evil camps. But this week's stories show them acting on their prejudices, using whatever power they have to punish what they see as evil, and to pardon what we normally regard as criminal behavior when it's done by their side. Trump is an example, but an even purer one is Texas Governor Abbott's promise to pardon the murderer of a Black Lives Matter protester. The decision of Tennessee Republicans to expel two black Democrats from the state legislature was equally blatant.

There are a number of stories below on abortion politics. A Trump judge in Texas ruled invalid the FDA approval 23 years ago of a drug commonly used to induce abortions in early pregnancy. This is an unprecedented ruling, from a judge who is notorious for putting political ideology above the law -- an increasingly common practice among Republican judges. If upheld, this would force women even in states where abortion rights are assured to endure more invasive and expensive procedures. There are other abortion law stories in Idaho, Florida, and Kansas. We should be clear that these are not debates about philosophy or religion. These are attempts by one Party to use the law to deprive Americans of their rights, using the police and courts to intervene in the most private of affairs. Republicans may hate law when it holds them accountable, but they sure like to use it to punish others.

I could have assembled a comparable gallery of cruel Republican bills and maneuvers to harass and defame trans people, or indeed anyone who blurs their expectations of gender identity. As Nicole Narea and Fabiola Cineas point out below, their campaign is broad and coordinated, deceitful and inflammatory. It seeks to take away rights, to impose the police and courts in highly personal matters. It attempts to legitimize hatred, and it almost inevitably will wind up inciting violence.

This last point, of course, brings us back to Trump. From the very beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign, starting with his description of Mexican immigrants as "rapists and murderers," he has repeatedly encouraged his followers to commit violence and mayhem. The two most memorable Jan. 6 soundbites remain his "will be wild" and "hang Mike Pence." We are fortunate that new Trump fanboys have gone as far as Cesar Sayoc (who sent 16 mail bombs targeting Trump critics), but that hasn't dampened Trump's enthusiasm. Nor is it just Trump. Many Republicans pose with guns in their ads, some stalking liberals like they're in a video game, and the MAGA base eats that up.

This psychosis has been coming for a long time. Verbally it's been a fixture at Fox from the beginning. Bush's post-9/11 swagger was built on his presumed "license to kill." Conservative journalist wrote a book about his 2004 campaign called Voting to Kill. Obama and Biden abetted this toxic attitude by continuing Bush's wars, especially by claiming the scalps of Osama Bin Laden and Aymin al-Zawahiri, but it was the Republican-fueled lust for guns that brought the violence home. More than three times as many Americans have been killed by guns so far this year as were lost on 9/11, yet Republicans are so close-minded on the subject that they expelled legislators in Tennessee to shut them up. (We'll see how well that works.)

While gun terrorism is still infrequent enough it comes as a shock, other aspects of Republican governance are harder to ignore. I don't have time to list them all, but Republicans have perverted the fundamentals of democracy, our understanding of education, the notion that law should be just, and much more.

Top story threads:

Trump: Following last week's indictment, Trump was arrested and arraigned in New York on Tuesday, and managed to behave himself until he got home to Mar-A-Lago, and threatened the DA, the presiding judge, their families, and the whole country. It's too bad we can't just charge him with being a psychopath, and be done with it. Also see the Jeffrey St Clair entry below, especially the statistics on misdemeanor prosecutions in New York.

  • Ryan Cooper: [03-27] Donald Trump Deserves to Be Indicted: "But not just for the Stormy Daniels affair; the most corrupt president in American history has gotten away with far too much." Written pre-indictment, but good to start off with a reminder why this matters.

  • David Dayen: [04-06] Our Two-Tiered Justice System and the Trump Indictment: "Corporate crime enforcement in America has been pathetic for decades. One prosecution of a guy screaming to be prosecuted doesn't change that."

  • Christopher Fettweis: [04-03] Ripping up Trump's 'battle plan' of attack on Mexico's cartels: "Chasing drug gangs and an endless rotation of kingpins into the cities and mountains -- do we really want another Afghanistan?" No. We shouldn't even want a repeat of the Pancho Villa Expedition, when US forces under Gen. Pershing invaded Mexico in March 1916 and spent 11 months trampling around northern Mexico, failing to catch a single "bandit." Of course, a repeat would be a much bigger mistake now: the area is much more populated now, everyone is much better armed, and the risk to civilian targets is much greater. The article gives many reasons why this wouldn't work, without even getting into the basic fact that American businesses have massive investments in Mexico that would suddenly become vulnerable, to disruption or worse.

  • Richard Fausset/Danny Hakim: [04-08] Georgia Looms Next After Trump's Indictment in New York.

  • Shirin Ghaffary: [04-05] Trump is no longer the social media king: "Why the former president's arrest was a whimper, not a roar, on Twitter, a platform designed for these moments." This may have less to do with refugee Trump than with Twitter itself, which Chip Goines tells us, "Twitter as a breaking news platform for news junkies like me is terribly broken at this point."

  • Melissa Gira Grant: [04-04] The Weird Religious Fervor of the Trump Faithful:

  • Maggie Haberman/Jonathan Swan: [04-08] Trump and His Lawyers: A Restless Search for Another Roy Cohn: The picture they released of Trump inside the court room mostly exposes how peculiar he is as a defendant. He sits in the middle of no less than four lawyers. Normally one would suffice, or two for the actual trial, but it's like he wants to impress upon the prosecution that he's got deeper pockets than they have. But the key quote here comes from William Barr, who "shook his head at the sight of the defense table on Tuesday," adding "Lawyers inevitably are sorry for taking on assignments with him."

  • Martin Pengelly: [04-09] Trump's indictment and the return of his biggest concern: 'the women'. Pengelly also co-wrote, with Maya Yang: [04-06] New York judge in Trump arraignment reportedly receives 'dozens' of threats.

  • James Poniewozik: [04-05] For Once, Donald Trump Did Not Enjoy the Show: "The ex-president's indictment put him in the rare position of being forced onto a public stage not of his own choosing." Last line: "As a TV draw, Donald Trump holding court is no competition for Donald Trump sitting in one."

  • Nia Prater/Chas Danner: [04-05] Trump Attacks Judge and His Family: "His Mar-a-Lago speech was relatively short but packed with grievance." Various "live updates" pieces, including important links to: Ankush Khardori: [04-04] Prosecuted: What to make of the criminal case against Donald Trump; and Ben Jacobs: [04-04] Trump's Indictment Has Become His Platform. The former leads me to think that if/when the case is tried, Trump will be convicted (although a hung jury is not inconceivable), but that odds are not good that a conviction won't be overturned on appeal (there are technical grounds for that, but also the court system is littered with Trump appointees, who scarcely need grounds for anything they do).

  • Joan Walsh: [04-06] There Was No Trump Violence This Week. But What's Coming? To answer, she interviews Jeff Sharlet, author of The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War. Cites a review of the book, by Adam Fleming Petty: [03-21] Exploring the crowds that gather for Trump -- and dream of civil war.

  • Amy B Wang: [04-06] Trump ally Jordan issues subpoena to former N.Y. prosecutor: That would be Mark Pomerantz, who resigned after accusing Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg of sandbagging the case against Trump, and wrote a book, People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account. Jordan has been threatening to subpoena Bragg -- a move that would be blatantly illegal, but Pomerantz would seem to be fair game. Jordan will no doubt argue that the DA's office was on a "witch hunt" to get Trump, while Pomerantz will counter that Trump was so obviously guilty he should have been charged earlier, and possibly for more. One note here that I somehow missed is that Trump gave Jordan a Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 21 after Jordan refused a subpoena to testify before the Jan. 6 Committee. Of course, those medals were permanently tarnished back when Bush gave them to the three stooges of the Iraq War (Tommy Franks, George Tenet, and Paul Bremer). Trump has found even less worthy people to give the medal to. (List here, including conservative totems Antonin Scalia, Rush Limbaugh, and Arthur Laffer, as well as megadonor Miriam Adelson and Truth Social CEO Devin Nunes; nonetheless, Trump only handed out a below-average 24 medals, 14 of which were to athletes/sports figures. Obama was most generous, with 117 medals over 8 years. Biden has awarded 17 so far, 0.63 per month, compared to 0.50 for Trump, 1.22 for Obama, 0.86 for Bush, 0.93 for Clinton, 0.81 for GWH Bush, 0.93 for Reagan, 0.71 for Carter. The medals started with Kennedy in 1963. Two people turned the medal down, both from Trump: Bill Belichick and Dolly Parton.)

  • Frank Luntz: [04-09] How to Make Trump Go Away: The GOP's language guru runs his focus groups and searches for a narrow path, concluding: "Republicans want just about everything Mr. Trump did, without everything Mr. Trump is or says." No doubt Luntz is one smart cookie, but I think he's got that exactly wrong. They don't know or care what he did, but they want his attitude and his mouth, his style. They want to piss off their nominal enemies, and nobody does that better. Luntz explains: "In 2016, the campaign was about what he could do for you. Today, it's about what is being done to him. If he becomes increasingly unhinged, or if his opponents focus on his tweets, his outbursts and his destructive personality, a sizable number of Republicans could choose someone else, as long as they prioritize core, time-tested priorities like lower taxes, less regulation, and less Washington." But those "core priorities" are killing us. Trump, almost uniquely, gives his followers someone else to blame for Republican failures.

And Other Republicans: Note that there was so much here that I wound up having to move several clusters of links into their own sections.


Abortion: I started out collecting these under the stupid Republican stories section, but a couple stories are big enough to merit their own section. Still, no mistaking that this is what you get when you elect Republicans.

A couple elections: The highly partisan state supreme court election in Wisconsin was won handily by a liberal Democrat, although the state legislature is so severely gerrymandered that they could conceivably impeach the winner out of spite (just as in Tennessee, they're expelling duly elected representatives they dislike). And in the nonpartisan Chicago mayor election, the more progressive candidate edged out a win against a guy the New York Times insists on calling "the moderate": his most conspicuous positions are in favor of undermining the public school system with charter schools, and of blind, reflexive support of the Chicago police union -- how do those positions, which align more closely with Republicans (think Nancy DeVos and Bernie Kerik), qualify as "moderate"?

Ukraine War:


Elsewhere around the world:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [04-08] Meet the MAGA movement's new favorite autocrat: El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, whose draconian "anti-gang" measures have resulted in the world's highest incarceration rates (edging out you-know-who). Before this, the only thing I knew about him was his advocacy of BitCoin, which he has made legal tender.

  • Ryan Grim: [04-07] To help end the Yemen war, all China had to do was be reasonable: "With Joe Biden nowhere to be found, China's diplomacy set the stage for Saudi concessions and cease-fire talks." But what about the arms sales the US will be missing out on?

Other stories:

Sam Bell: [03-30] Democrats Slashed Medicaid and Food Assistance Because We Didn't Fight: So why is this our fault? The measures in question were smartly added to the CARES pandemic relief bill, which passed because Trump and the Republicans were panicking over the 2020 stock market collapse, and they needed Democratic support because Democrats controlled the House. But even though the policies were generally popular, Democrats didn't have sufficient majorities to keep them going. It may have been a tactical mistake to have conceded them instead of alternatives, but it's unlikely a demonstration or letter-writing campaign would have made any difference.

Paul Buhle: [03-30] Staughton Lynd: The Perils of Sainthood. Activist-scholar (1929-2022), this focuses on his book My Country Is the World: Staughton Lynd's Writing, Speeches and Statements Against the Vietnam War.

Matthew Cappucci: [04-07] Earth has second-warmest March even before arrival of planet-heating El Niño: "It was the 529th consecutive month to feature temperatures above the 20th-century average." More climate change:

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: [04-07] Appeals court ruling puts hundreds of Jan. 6 felony cases in limbo. The authors previously wrote about a similar case: [03-07] Judge tosses obstruction charge against Jan. 6 defendant. By the way, Rachel Weiner reads this case somewhat differently: [04-07] Jan. 6 rioters can be prosecuted for obstructing Congress, court rules.

Kate Conger/Ryan Mac: [04-07] Twitter Takes Aim at Posts That Link to Its Rival Substack. I know some people who mostly use Twitter to post links to their articles on Substack. In fact, I mostly use it to notify readers of new pieces on my blog. Matt Taibbi posts 5-10 tweets linking to each and every one of his Substack pieces. He now says he will be leaving Twitter. More on Twitter:

Hannah Crosby: [04-08] How Many More Years of Living Dangerously: "The National Flood Insurance Program can't keep pace with the challenges posed by climate change and insuring oceanfront homes in Scituate, Massachusetts."

Timothy Egan: [04-03] What we can learn from the Midwestern war against the Klan 100 years ago. It's only been 100 years, but we're unlikely ever again to witness 25,000 hooded klansmen marching through Washington, DC. On the other hand, that anyone still considers this history relevant to now is disturbing. It may still be interesting that what destroyed the 1920s Klan wasn't repression, or that racism went out of fashion, but internal power struggles: to the end, assholes be assholes.

Amanda Holpuch: [04-07] New Mexico Police Fatally Shoot Man After Responding to Wrong House. The person they killed was armed, not that he had a chance to defend himself. So tell me again how the Second Amendment works? Note that they were able to fill up a whole sidebar under "New Mexico Gun Violence."

Heather Souvaine Horn: [03-31] Fight Climate Change by Doing Less: "Resist the misconception that sustainable living means more work." Spend less. Work less. Why make this any more complicated than it has to be?

Sarah Jones: [04-08] Children Are Not Property: "The idea that underlies the right-wing campaign for "parents rights." It's hard for me to read this without trembling, as it reminds me of psychic trauma from my own childhood that still haunt me. I wouldn't even concede that "only the unborn are spared the right's cruelty." (Remember the title of Adam Serwer's book: The Cruelty Is the Point.) I'd add that the old term for "property in people" is slavery.

Joshua Kaplan/Justin Elliott/Alex Mierjeski: [04-06] Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire: This is a major report on how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been the beneficiary of numerous gifts, especially from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. You know, for many years conservatives complained that seemingly solid Republicans would be nominated to the Supreme Court, then somehow transform into starry-eyed liberals. Eventually, they came up with a way to keep Justices true: they pay them, under the table or off on the side, especially by doling lucrative jobs out to their families. No one has raked in more cash this way than Ginni Thomas. And here we find her husband skating around the world in private planes and superyachts. Some further comments:

Mike Masnick: [04-07] Mehdi Hasan Dismantles the Entire Foundation of the Twitter Files as Matt Taibbi Stumbles to Defend It. Includes video of a 30-minute interview, which I haven't watched yet. Given that Taibbi's work on the Twitter dump is mostly behind his paywall, and that the hype he's been giving it on Twitter rarely makes much sense, I haven't made any real effort to follow the story. But the article here seems to demolish if not everything at least the hype about its importance. Hasan, by the way, has a new book out, called Win Every Argument: The Art of debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking. Trashing Taibbi should help promote that book.

Elie Mystal: [03-22] Corporate America Is No Longer Pretending to Care About Diversity: Following the outcry over the murder of George Floyd, many companies resolved to hire DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) officers. A new study shows that "the attrition for DEI officers was 33 percent at the end of 2022, compared with 21 percent for non-DEI roles."

Nicole Narea/Fabiola Cineas: [04-06] The GOP's coordinated national campaign against trans rights, explained: The key word here is "coordinated." This is not an issue I'm inclined to get involved in, but Republicans have taken such a vile stand that we're being forced to respond. It wouldn't be hard to come up with ten more examples:

Nicole Narea/Ian Millhiser/Andrew Prokop: [04-06] The multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuits against Fox News, explained. As a general rule, I hate defamation lawsuits, which tend to be attacks on free speech, brought on by rich blowhards who want to stifle criticism. For example, when Trump first ran for president, one of his greatest hopes was to change the law so he could sue more people who prickled his thin skin. This one is a little different, inasmuch as it is helping to expose the inner workings of Fox and its right-wing propaganda machine. Whether Dominion deserves billions can be debated, but anything that helps reveal Fox for what they really are should be applauded. Also:

Richard Sandomir: [04-08] Mel King, Whose Boston Mayoral Bid Eased Racial Tensions, Dies at 94: A legend a bit before my time in Boston, so I wanted to note him but didn't have much to say. Title point is certainly true, at least compared to his opponent (Raymond Flynn). Among my friends, he is regarded as a pathbreaking progressive. As Linda Gordon put it: "How I wish Mel King was with us now. I'm not sure I know of another activist/politician I have more respected and loved."

Nicholas Slayton: [04-07] 'How to Blow Up a Pipeline' and the Case for Radical, Direct Action on Climate: "A new film considers what to do when those in power fail to take the problem seriously." The film is about "a diverse group of activists banding together to blow up an oil pipeline in West Texas." Look, I don't approve, and I emphatically reject that people who would do such a thing are coming at the problem from the left, but it's only a matter of time until things like this happen, with some frequency. In Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, which is set in the future but not very damn far, extraordinary things we call "ecoterrorism" happen frequently -- e.g., hypersonic missiles blowing up tankers -- and are shown to contribute significantly to the powers around the world finally addressing the problem. To set such violence in motion, you need three factors converging: (1) the perception that climate change is destroying our way of life; (2) the common, routine resort to violence as a way of coping with problems; and (3) the demonstrated failure of normal politics to address the problem. If I had to put a bet on how far each of these has progressed, it would be somewhere between 30% and 60%. The Ukraine War, to pick one example, has boosted each of these factors. (The NordStream pipeline could conceivably have been an ecoterrorist operation, except that there was little reason: it was already shut down, and it was a difficult target, when many other targets would be much easier -- like the one in the movie.)

Also on this:

  • Kate Aronoff: [04-05] Is Environmental Radicalism Inevitable? "It would be ludicrous, Malm acknowledge, to expect saboteurs to systematically dismantle the fossil fuel economy one homemade incendiary at a time. In this and other work, he's emphasized that only states can do that. Both he and the film's protagonists, accordingly, articulate eco-terrorism as a kind of DIY market signal meant to force states' hand into doing something they otherwise wouldn't."

  • Peter C Baker: [04-05] Will We Call Them Terrorists? A review of How to Blow Up a Pipeline. "We do not know how the future will see us."

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-07] Roaming Charges: Broken Windows Theory of Political Crime: "People griping about the trivial nature of the charges against Trump seem to have forgotten that the aggressive enforcement of trivial offenses has been the hallmark of American policing for 40 years, put into vicious deployment by Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani with Trump cheering him on. With hundreds of thousands of people arrested and jailed for minor offenses like subway fare evasion, loitering, jaywalking, or selling single cigarettes, isn't it time we applied the Broken Windows Theory to political crimes and hold to account the people who enforced it on others?"

St Clair quotes Stephen Miller asking "What is Donald Trump's crime?" Miller's answer is: "His crime is refusing to bow or bend to the corrupt and rotten foreign policy establishment that is used to always getting their way in this country." Nice way of trying to hide a lie (Trump's refusal to bow or bend") behind a truth that is rarely acknowledged. But St Clair show how little resistance Trump offered to the "foreign policy establishment" (he even added a few wrinkles that were uniquely his own):

Let's review: Trump appointed the Deep State's top torturer to run the CIA, put 1000s of troops on the ground in Syria and stole their oil, broke Obama's drone strike record, sanctified Israel's illegal annexation of the Golan Heights, separated children from their parents at the border, extracted pledges of higher military spending from NATO countries, plotted to kill Julian Assange then indicted him on espionage charges, wanted to bomb and invade Mexico . . .

Some head-scratchers here, including most of his section on the extramarital sex lives of various presidents (which Harding had, but I doubt it was as described). One link struck me as strange: Oregon will become 1st state in nation to allow children who enroll in Medicaid at birth to stay to age 6. This is some kind of great liberal accomplishment?

Joseph Stiglitz: [04-03] How Models Get the Economy Wrong: "Seemingly complex and sophisticated econometric modeling often fails to take into account common sense and observable reality." There are a lot of smart points in this piece, but mostly they read as refutations of dumb platitudes. Here's a line I like: "Can it possibly be the case that the most efficient use of our limited research resources should be directed toward making an ever-better advertising machine (the business model underlying Facebook and Google) aimed at better exploiting consumers through discriminatory pricing and targeted and often misleading advertising?" Capitalism sometimes gives us things we want, even if we didn't know that we wanted them, but in this example it's pursuing and refining something we don't want at all, something designed only to make our lives more miserable. Further down, after disposing of the NAIRU model, he points out that advocates of the model wrongly attributed inflation to excess aggregate demand, when it was "clearly the result of a series of pandemic-induced supply-side shortages and demand shifts." This is part of a series of articles on bad models:

  • Robert Kuttner: [04-07] Is Economics Self-Correcting? "Economists are made to learn long-discredited modeling, and then the safe way to win promotion and tenure is to publish articles in the same genre."

  • Rakeen Mabud/David Dayen: [04-03] Hidden in Plain Sight: "The distorting power of macroeconomic policy models."

  • Philip Rocco: [04-06] Prisoners of Their Own Device: "Once computed, the 'hard numbers' found in CBO's baseline tables conceal all the assumptions and uncertainties involved in producing them."

  • Elizabeth Warren: [04-04] How Policymakers Fight a Losing Battle With Models: "Reforms are needed to ensure that inaccurate budgetary math doesn't take precedence over maximizing long-term prosperity."

Matt Stoller: [04-06] Federal Reserve Independence Is the Problem: "A weird, secretive, and unaccountable institution organizes our society, and nobody wants to talk about it." I remember Clinton complaining about how the "fucking bond market" runs the country, but then he turned around and nominated Alan Greenspan for two more terms as Fed Chair. Like Clinton, Obama and Biden both reappointed Republican Fed Chairs, who then turned around and screwed them.

From my Twitter feed:

Dare Obasanjo: Carnage4Life Kyle Rittenhouse was a turning point where Republicans started openly celebrating murdering people whose politics you disagree with.

Turning literal murderers into heroes because you dislike the politics of the victims and government officials normalizing it is a dark place.

Tikun Olam @richards1052 Latest poll shows Likud would lose 12 seats from its current 32 if election was held today. An utter disaster. Opposition parties led by Gantz and Lapid would double their seats to 50.

Also this meme: "The road to fascism is lined with people telling you to stop overreacting."

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