Monday, April 15, 2024

Literary Corner: So Vicious, So Horrible, So Beautiful


Martin Sheen as General Lee cheered by the brigades under his direct command, the Army of Northern Virginia, played by unpaid Civil War reenactors, I'm unable to determine at which point in the story (but probably near the beginning, when these troops arrive in Pennsylvania), in Ronald F. Maxwell's 1993 film Gettysburg. It's part of the lore of the movie that the whole sequence is entirely spontaneous, not part of the script but improvised unbidden by the extras, filmed only because the camera operators realized something exceptional was happening and Sheen was responding in character, which he does, as you can see, really gorgeously.

Never Fight Uphill, Me Boys

By Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle
that was. It was so much, and so interesting,
and so vicious and horrible, and so beautiful
in so many different ways—it represented
such a big portion of the success
of this country. Gettysburg, wow—
I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,
to look and to watch. And the statement
of Robert E. Lee, who's no longer in favor—
did you ever notice it? He's no
longer in favor. "Never fight
uphill, me boys, never fight uphill!"
They were fighting uphill, he said.
Wow, that was a big mistake. He lost
his big general. "Never fight uphill,
me boys," but it was too late.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

All My Trials: Covering up the Coverup

Washington Post's Aaron Blake ("Why Trump’s ‘hush money’ case is bigger than hush money") is among a bunch of people fretting about how the criminal trial that starts Monday is getting known as the "hush money case":

that... shorthand might not be totally apt, if a Monday letter from the judge in the case is any measure. Indeed, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan seems to indicate that what we really have is a third election interference case.

(The paper's headline writers certainly aren't helping, if that's the case.)

My take is that "election interference case" is not a winner, particularly not for this one, The phrase "election interference" doesn't have a happy history in the Trumpery; we've been using it a long time since the discovery that Russian intelligence agencies were interfering in the 2016 election on Trump's behalf, and the only thing we've really gotten out of it, rhetorically, is that Trump now uses it against every damn investigation of his crimes:

The Fani Willis lover, Mr. Nathan Wade Esq. has just resigned in disgrace, as per his and her reading of the judge’s order today. Nathan was the ‘special,’ in more ways than one, prosecutor ‘engaged’ by Fani (pronounced Fauni) Willis, to persecute Trump for Crooked Joe Biden and his Department of Injustice for purposes of election interference and living the life of the rich and famous. This is the equivalent of Deranged Jack Smith getting ‘canned.’ Big stuff, something which should happen in the not too distant future!

And there's a kind of a point there, too; a guilty verdict in any of these criminal cases probably would have an influence on the outcome of the November election, and if the prosecutors believe he's guilty they'd probably be happier if he lost the election too, just as I would. You and I hope to exert an influence on the election too, by voting, and by persuading other people to vote the same way, including by spreading stories about Trump's criminality. Everybody's trying to interfere with the election—that's the point Trump wants to make here, in his post-truth whatabout way, that singling him out as if he were the only election interferer on the block is unfair.

But really, "election interference" isn't a crime in and of itself. If somebody murders his rich uncle for a share of the estate, he doesn't get charged with inheritance interference but with murder; inheritance interference is the motive, not the crime. If a political candidate commits crimes in order to influence the election result, whether it's collaboration or conspiracy with a foreign intelligence agency or the illegal coverup of hush money payments, those are the crimes charged; election interference is the motive. And this seems to be exactly the view taken in New York State: it is a crime only if it's "committed unlawfully".

When Trump's attorney-fixer Michael Cohen arranged for the National Enquirer publisher David Pecker to pay $150,000 kill fee to Playboy model Karen McDougal for her article describing her affair with Trump, that was an unlawful campaign contribution under federal law; it was way over the limit in size, and it was illegal to donate it in secret. When Cohen himself got $130,000 laundered through a shell company to Stephanie Clifford/Stormy Daniels to kill her article on a night with Trump, mushroom imagery and all, that was apparently another unlawful campaign contribution, but when it turned out Trump had ended up reimbursing Cohen for the money with another $130,000 to cover taxes, that made it an unlawful campaign loan, and Trump's own money the illegally unreported contribution, and his attempts to pass it off as legal fees is a case in New York State of falsifying business records in the first degree:

Falsifying business records in the first degree is a felony under New York state law that requires that the "intent to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof". This is in contrast to falsifying business records in the second degree, which is a misdemeanor that does not have that requirement.[8][92][93] In later filings, Bragg listed three such crimes that that Trump allegedly intended to commit: violation of federal campaign finance limits, violation of state election laws by unlawfully influencing the 2016 election, and violation of state tax laws regarding the reimbursement.

Those three crimes that make the falsification a felony instead of a misdemeanor aren't themselves charged in the Trump indictment, which is a little weird. The first of them, though, is a federal crime, for which Cohen was charged, and convicted in his plea with the Southern District, and he indeed did prison time—Trump himself (Individual-1 in Cohen's case) wasn't charged with it because he was president at the time, I guess, so it's implicit that the crime took place and he was certainly involved in it; we all heard the recording of his call with Cohen in re the Pecker payment.

The second one is the definition of what constitutes "election interference" in New York State (thanks, Just Security!):

N.Y. Elec. Law § 17-152: Conspiracy to promote or prevent election. Under that statute, “Any two or more persons who conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means and which conspiracy is acted upon by one or more of the parties thereto, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

(I'll ignore the tax issue.)

So this is clearly the kind of thing that happened, as summarized at ABC News:

"From August 2015 to December 2017, the Defendant [Trump] orchestrated a scheme with others [including Cohen, who did prison time for his part, and Pecker,  who was given federal immunity in return for his testimony] to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant's electoral prospects. In order to execute the unlawful scheme, the participants violated election laws and made and caused false entries in the business records of various entities in New York," prosecutors said in a statement of facts accompanying the charges.

Which may seem a tiny bit circular—it's unlawful influencing because of the election law violations and the falsification of records, and the falsification of records is a felony rather than a misdemeanor because the influencing is unlawful—but that makes sense to me: it's a real conspiracy, in which the distinct parts aggravate the criminality of the whole.

Anyway, it occurs to me that this is a case where the coverup is not worse than the crime, it is the crime. Or rather I should say the metacoverup is the crime, because if you think about it it's a coverup of a coverup, in which the first-order federal campaign law violation of concealing Donald's nasty sexual behavior (which itself was not a crime but a bad look for the evangelical champion, especially at the moment of the Access Hollywood tape) by paying off the two women is itself concealed by the second-order New York crime of falsifying the records.

So I'd like to propose an improved nomenclature for the criminal cases in which they are clearly differentiated and both the crime involved and its subject matter are referenced:

  • the Hush-Money Coverup for Bragg's case (I'm not saying it's not an election interference case, but I think the expression tends to make all these cases sound less criminal than they really are, which is why Trump is deploying it so much in his zone-flooding commentary, and it's merely "influence" in any case: I don't think Bragg should put himself in the position of having to argue that knowing about McDougal and Stormy would have made a crucial difference in the election results, not something we can really know);
  • the Election Racket for Willis's case in Atlanta, in which Trump after the 2020 election is just one (important) member of a criminal gang trying to impose its will in its territory through threats and intimidation, messing with voting machines and tormenting election workers, with more attention to thugs like Giuliani and Meadows; and
  • the Election Fraud for Smith's Washington case, where Trump is (mysteriously) the only defendant, which overlaps a good deal in content with the Atlanta case but which seems to me to focus less on the activity of making trouble and and unrest (it's remarkable how little attention Smith gives to January 6 itself), and more on Trump's broader personal objective, the "conspiracy to disenfranchise voters" promulgation of the Big Lie, Trump's effort to sustain the idea that he really had won the 2020 election, alongside his knowledge that he was lying; and
  • the Documents Theft (I've been using this all along) for Jack Smith's Florida case generally known as "Mar-a-Lago", in which the important element isn't that they were in his house (as is also the case for Biden and Pence) but that he deliberately took them from the White House and resisted giving them back in so many ways, with such a variety of lies and subterfuge, and such a total refusal to obey the law.

Narratologically speaking, I think this is a pretty good schema for seeing the four very different proceedings as constituents of a single story, which I hope is a story of Trump's failure. Don't count on that though.

Cross-posted at the Substack.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Literary Corner: For Our Sins


Image by Cowicide, December 2021.

Happy Easter Everyone!

By Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

Happy Easter to all, including crooked
and corrupt prosecutors and judges
that are doing everything possible
to interfere with the presidential
election of 2024, and put me in prison,
including those many people that I completely &
totally despise because they want to destroy
America, a now failing nation, like “deranged”
Jack Smith, who is evil and “sick,”
Mrs. Fani “Fauni” Wade, who said
she hardly knew the “special” prosecutor,
only to find that he spent years “loving” her,
long before the Georgia persecution
of President Trump began (and thereby making
the case against me null, void, and illegal!),
and lazy on violent crime Alvin Bragg who,
with crooked Joe’s DOJ thugs, unfairly working
in the D.A.’s office, illegally indicted me
on a case he never wanted to bring and
virtually all legal scholars say is a case
that should not be brought, is breaking the
law in doing so (Pomerantz!), was turned
down by all other law enforcement authorities,
and is not a crime. Happy Easter everyone!

As is traditional in his annual Easter messages, the former president (who has eloquently said of Easter that it is "just a very special— time for me. And it really represents family and get-together and—and something, you know, if you're a—a Christian"), takes time to reach out to folks he may have neglected for a while over the past year, especially those engaged in what he calls "election interference", by which he means trying to hold him to account for the various crimes he's committed over the past eight-odd years, which might, if he's convicted, make it harder for him to win another term, kind of like the 48 Russian athletes who had Olympic medals taken from them since 2008, just because they used performance-enhancing drugs. It really seems unfair, if you think about it, or even more if you don't think about it.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Newsletter in the Strict Sense of the Term


Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) in the Capitol just after midnight, January 7, 2021, helping to clean up the garbage left by the marauding Yahoos. Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP via NBC News.

Unbelievable torrents of news over the last few days, as if coming down on us from one of those "atmospheric rivers" they have in California now (of which I have a mental picture like a Dr. Seuss drawing, with foamy, roiling blue waves at the border of the stratosphere and lots of careless but energetic fish doing aerial maneuvers).


In New Jersey, First Lady Tammy Murphy dropped out of the Democratic primary race to replace the abominable Senator Robert Menendez, now under indictment for (among other things) representing Egypt instead of New Jersey on the foreign affairs committee, though he still claims to be running as an independent. The presumptive nominee, Rep. Andy Kim of the suburban district 3 east of Philadelphia, filed immediately after Menendez's indictment, but Murphy seemed inevitable, with her husband's political might behind her and the special Jersey trick known as the County Line, where 19 of the state's 21 counties print their own primary ballots with a top line which the voter can pick to vote for all the candidates endorsed by their party machine at one blow, which generally always wins.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Literary Corner: Just as Phony as It Can Be

To the tune of:


Gee but I'm happy to be back
Back at the Mar-a La... go
Where I have all the stuff I lack
When I'm on the road and fighting the Gesta... po
It's the same dilemma
Everywhere I go
I get charged with libel
When I'm only tryin to sell you a Bible
And I'm slapped with another indictment
When I only want to spark some excitement
Just tryin to keep the customer satisfied

Federal judge complains to me
Why you lyin to the bank... boy
You have lost your dignity
And now you're really lookin like a skank
It's the same dilemma
Everywhere I go
I get found liable
For a thing that people do in the Bible
And the rage increases
When I'm only tryin to get close to Jesus
But I'm trying to keep my customers satisfied
I don't really have a lot to say, except the news that Trump has gone into Bible sales made me think of the lovable Peter Bogdanovich movie with Ryan and Tatum O'Neal and Ryan O'Neal's death a few months ago and all the goodness and humor that seems to have disappeared from the world.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Literary Corner: So Vicious, So Horrible, So Beautiful

Martin Sheen as General Lee cheered by the brigades under his direct command, the Army of Northern Virginia, played by unpaid Civil War reenactors, I'm unable to determine at which point in the story (but probably near the beginning, when these troops arrive in Pennsylvania), in Ronald F. Maxwell's 1993 film Gettysburg. It's part of the lore of the movie that the whole sequence is entirely spontaneous, not part of the script but improvised unbidden by the extras, filmed only because the camera operators realized something exceptional was happening and Sheen was responding in kind, which he does, really gorgeously.

Never Fight Uphill, Me Boys

By Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle
that was. It was so much, and so interesting,
and so vicious and horrible, and so beautiful
in so many different ways—it represented
such a big portion of the success
of this country. Gettysburg, wow—
I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,
to look and to watch. And the statement
of Robert E. Lee, who's no longer in favor—
did you ever notice it? He's no
longer in favor. "Never fight
uphill, me boys, never fight uphill!"
They were fighting uphill, he said.
Wow, that was a big mistake. He lost
his big general. "Never fight uphill,
me boys," but it was too late.

Much Worse Than Bloodbaths

 Something from the Republicans on ci-devant Twitter:

Folks, I think President Biden is merely trying to take the Ex-Guy seriously but not literally, as the very serious journalist Salena Zito advised us back in the day, and the very serious billionaire investor Peter Thiel, cheerfully plagiarizing her (he has nothing to fear from Christopher Rufo) in a talk at the National Press Club:

I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. ... I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally, so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment, their question is not, ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or, you know, ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.

So Trump never told people to inject themselves with bleach as a COVID cure, not literally; he merely said he thought it might be a good idea, injecting it or using it for "almost a cleaning", that or light, or UV, that was the bit that got me, the idea of injecting people with light, or sticking it in you "some other way", which he believed William Bryan, head of science and technology at the DHS, had just told the press conference about, while Trump complacently "clasped his hands in front of his stomach", as Politico later wrote, before offering his own remarks:

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Normalizing

Semaphore tower, via Encyclopedia Brittanica.

The Semafor story ("How Donald Trump learned to love the January 6 prisoner movement") about the lengthy evolution of Trump's views on the January 6 insurgents—

A detailed examination of his public statements and ten interviews with people now involved in the movement to support January 6 defendants show a gradual path from Trump’s instinctive support for some of the most hardcore members of his own MAGA movement to a semi-formal alliance with an organization founded by the family member of a January 6 convict.

—is the most classic example I've seen in a long time of the Trump "normalization" narrative, portraying the ex-president as a deliberative thinker, carefully considering how to respond to a problem, right from the lede

On January 7, 2021, as shell-shocked staffers swept up the Capitol and National Guard troops patrolled the Mall, President Donald Trump released a video denouncing the “heinous attack on the United States Capitol.” He declared himself “outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem” and promised “to those who broke the law, you will pay.”

As if he'd had anything in particular to do even with writing the text for that video, which he read aloud in his most dead-voiced, resentful fourth-grader manner, making one of his typical reading-disability errors (because the phrase "in so doing" is a little too fancy for him),

Friday, March 15, 2024

Word and Deed

Gaza around the turn of the 20th century, via Palestine Remembered.

Jonathan Capehart was on my radio yesterday morning, talking about his NBC interview last week of President Biden, and they came to this exceptionally fraught moment:

Jonathan Capehart (06:22):

Some have suggested you should go back to Israel and address the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Is that something you would do?

President Joe Biden (06:31):


Jonathan Capehart (06:35):

Would that have to be at the invitation of the Prime Minister or could that be at the invitation of the President?

President Joe Biden (06:42 [after a pretty substantial pause]):

I’d rather not discuss it more.

Biden didn't mind saying he might address the Knesset, but he didn't want to say who might be inviting him. Or rather, since you wouldn't expect it to happen other than by an invitation from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is by definition the head of the government in the Knesset, and runs the things that happen there, he didn't want to say that it might be from somebody else, such as President Herzog, the head of state (whose only direct interaction with the Knesset is when he's accepting the resignation of a prime minister, or inviting a politician to try to form a new government). Or he couldn't or at least didn't want to deny that he might have an invitation from President Herzog, let's say, so he preferred to drop the subject and let Capehart make of it what he would.

Brian Lehrer, the host of the radio show, was suitably gobsmacked, and expressed himself, as people so often do, with a "can you imagine" scenario, like "Can you imagine if some foreign leader came to Washington and addressed Congress over the head of President Biden?"

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

News From Bob-Bob


This is just maddening. I don't know about Rodgers, but there's no way WWE wrestling great and former politician Jesse Ventura is signing on to Bob-Bob's campaign. He's been a fervent advocate of masking

Former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura shared harsh words for non-mask wearers amid the pandemic, saying had Americans refused to make similar sacrifices during World War II that Adolf Hitler would have won the war. 

"The country sacrificed in WWII. Do you think there would have been any argument over wearing a mask for the people of WWII? I’ll tell you if we behaved like we are right now, Hitler would have won," said Ventura. "He’d a won because this country won’t face any type of – they don't want to sacrifice."

and of COVID vaccine

It seems as if Bob-Bob may have been misled by SOMETHING ON THE INTERNET like the thing where some fool showed up on one of Ventura's TV shows in 2009—

An old video, from a TV show aired in 2009 named “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura” is doing rounds on social media. The video is getting attention on social media as several users are linking it to the COVID vaccination drive that was started in 2021.
In the show Jesse Ventura and his team of investigators examined mysterious conspiracy allegations of recent times.

In the video we see a woman, who is said to be Dr Lima Raibow, speaking about how the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been working on vaccines since 1974 to cause permanent sterility worldwide. In the video Dr Lima says that the WHO is concerned about the “90% too many people in the world” hinting that the UN agency is planning to depopulate the world on a large scale under an inoculation program.

—and decided that this piece of (irresponsible and irritating) showbiz represented his kind of people, without bothering to ask Jesse what he actually thought about the matter.

In this, Jesse is in the same position as Martin Sheen, Dionne Warwick, Mike Tyson, and Andrea Boccelli, artists that Bob-Bob announced would be coming to his birthday party before they had RSVP'd.  

American Values promoted the event last week by sharing it on X, previously known as Twitter, and the Daily Mail reported the appearance of all four stars at the gala. CBS News obtained a copy of the invitation, and although it didn't include the names of the artists, the super PAC confirmed the report.

But soon after the PAC's social media post appeared, Sheen said in an Instagram story, "I do not endorse RFK Jr. nor I will I be attending his party." Sheen, who played fictional President and former New Hampshire Gov. Josiah Bartlett in the award-winning show, added that he's "whole heartedly supporting Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket for 2024."

And Warwick and Boccelli followed up soon after saying the same thing. Last I heard we didn't know about Killer Mike. And Bob-Bob followed up by announcing he wasn't going to the party either.

This announcement is just more of the same. Bob-Bob is a completely unserious person, and if you take him seriously you're being a fool. Don't do it.

Monday, March 11, 2024

But Look, Clearly


Screen capture via Fox 5 San Diego. Rep. Greene looking a little like Spike Lee at a Knicks game, if the Knicks wore red, except Spike knows the difference between a basketball game and a joint session of Congress.

I'm just not ready to stop talking about the SOTU, because there are still more ways in which it was totally unique that I haven't gotten to, in the laundry list body of the speech as well, like when he warned the attendant justices of the Supreme Court that overturning Roe v. Wade had been a serious political mistake, throwing their own words in their faces:

Look, in its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court majority wrote the following, and with all due respect, justices, “Women are not without electoral, electoral power” — excuse me — “electoral or political power.” You’re about to realize just how much you got right about that.

Clearly, clearly, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women. But they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot. We won in 2022 and 2023, and we will win again in 2024.

If you, the American people, send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you, I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again.

Some nominal supporters of abortion rights were stomping on this because Roe v. Wade wasn't, in fact, all that radical, allowing states to set whatever restrictions they wanted on terminating pregnancy after 24 weeks, but those critics might not be aware of what "codifying Roe" has come to mean since Dobbs. It's not your grandfather's Roe, as evidenced by the formula advanced by Abigail Spanberger (D-VA, not known as a wild-eyed leftist):

The Spanberger-backed legislation would create a statutory right for providers to provide and patients to receive an abortion — without facing medically unnecessary restrictions. The bill would also block the government from requiring providers to provide inaccurate information to patients, remove the ability to require that patients make medically unnecessary in-person visits before receiving an abortion, and restrict the government from forcing patients to disclose their reasons for seeking an abortion before receiving care. 

Proponents are now rejecting the ahistorical idea that fetuses have rights that compete with those of the pregnant person, regardless of Justice Alito's bogus arguments. The new version is an unqualified right for the person with the womb.

He's also taken heat for referring to the man who has been charged with murdering a University of Georgia nursing student last month as "an illegal" in the speech, during his back-and-forth with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, although the way he used the word suggested he wan't entirely familiar with it (I think he picked it up from whatever Greene howled at him, but I'm not finding a report of her exact words):

Lincoln [recte Laken] Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal, that’s right. But how many thousands of people are being killed by legals?

What are "legals"? Sounds like he means legal immigrants, who are of course the least likely people in the United States to commit a violent crime, or any crime at all. The most likely are those who are citizens by birth, with the undocumented being somewhere between. (The best-confirmed example is homicide convictions: 2.8 per 100,000 US-born residents, 2.4 per 100,000 undocumented foreign residents, and 1.1 per 100,000 for the documented foreign-born.) Given that there are maybe 13 million undocumented  migrants and 30 million documented ones vs. about 285 million US-born, that certainly adds up to thousands of killings by the last group for each one by the first.

José Antonio Ibarra, the alleged murderer, is a Venezuelan asylum seeker, and thus not exactly "illegal" anyway. He and his then wife and her child crossed the border at an unlawful spot near El Paso in September 2022 and surrendered to CBP, which paroled them, and then somebody, presumably Governor Greg Abbott, had them bused to New York, where they were given court dates, and where he found work delivering meals and maybe got busted in Queens for endangering the welfare of a child, riding his moped with the wife's kid on his back, with no helmet (but NYPD has no record of the arrest). He eventually left New York to join his brother, who was living with a fake green card in Athens, Georgia, and found work there, but made his immigration court appearance in New York in December, and then apparently did this horrible thing, killing Laken Riley with a blunt instrument and dragging her body into the woods, though the wife continues to doubt he was the one who did it:

“We got married so we could join our asylum cases,” she told The Post. “He was the person I thought I could see through. We’ve known each other our entire lives. He wasn’t aggressive, none of that,” she said. “We had problems as a couple but our problems weren’t physical. We wouldn’t punch but we’d raise our voices."

Completely lost in the discussion is the thing Biden actually said to Greene after that, his important comment on the case, improvised away from the written text, which a lot of listeners may not have understood, though the congressmembers definitely should have:

To her parents, I say, my heart goes out to you having lost children myself. I understand.

But look, if we change the dynamic at the border — people pay these smugglers 8,000 bucks to get across the border because they know if they get by, if they get by and let into the country, it’s six to eight years before they have a hearing. And it’s worth the taking a chance for the $8,000.

But if it’s only six weeks, the idea is it’s highly unlikely that people will pay that money and come all that way knowing that they’ll be able to be kicked out quickly.

Most asylum applicants are going to lose their cases, even in New York, where immigration judges tend to be a lot friendlier than in Texas, and in many or most of those instances they probably don't really deserve to win, at least in terms of the law as it's written. But the law as written also demands that the cases be heard. 

Biden is saying that the incredible bottleneck that has existed for some time in the system, while Congress fails to pass a comprehensive reform, actually encourages people without credible fears to come to Mexico and cross into the waiting arms of a CBP agent, because they know that, while they will eventually lose and get deported, they'll have six or eight years to make and save some money before that happens, enough perhaps to turn into landlords when they get home. If José Antonio Ibarra's asylum case had been heard in El Paso a few weeks after his arrival, in October 2022, Abbott wouldn't have had an opportunity to bus him to New York, and Ibarra wouldn't have had an opportunity to commit any crimes there or in Athens. More than that, as Biden suggests, if he knew he'd be sent back to Venezuela that soon, he'd likely never have left.

That's a major part of the reason Biden's proposals for "fixing the border" always depend so much on beefing up the resources of the system, the CBP agents and immigration judges, along with trying to get people to apply for asylum without coming to the US, from consulates in their home countries, or from the Mexico side of border using the phone app. And (the legally and morally questionable aspect) making it easier for CPB to deport them straight away. It's because our immigration system is broken, as they say, and when they say it's broken they don't mean it's evil, though its consequences often are evil, hurting innocent people for no good reason; they mean it doesn't work any more—it's in need of major repairs that Congress has been putting off for many years, mostly because Republican members are afraid their voters won't like it.

Though there are Republicans, often in Great Plains states like Oklahoma that have been bleeding population for a century, who realize that we need more immigration, not less, which is why James Lankford worked so hard on the bill currently languishing in the House because Trump ordered Mikey Johnson not to put it on the floor.

I could wish Biden wouldn't work so hard insisting that Lankford's bill is "conservative"

In November, my team began serious negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators. The result was a bipartisan bill with the toughest set of border security reforms we’ve ever seen. Oh, you don’t think so? Oh, you don’t like that bill, huh? That conservatives got together and said was a good bill? I’ll be darned, that’s amazing.

but I understand why he does it: to highlight the perversity of the Republicans rejecting it, after wailing all year about the situation at the border, out of nothing but Trump's fear of giving Biden a W.

But it would be better to highlight the way these "bipartisan" feats of legislation always require Democrats to make all the sacrifices—while Republicans demand to be bribed, as they have been in all these matters involving immigration and foreign policy this year, to do the things they claim to want. It would be better to handle this the way he handled the abortion rights issue, asking voters to send him a better Congress so he can do a better job.

Somewhat edited version at the Substack.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

It's Not Hyperbole, Man!


Holding babies in Rose Valley, PA. Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP via Citrus County Chronicle.  

As I was saying, the last SOTU of Biden's first term was an extraordinary departure from the SOTU norm, which I've been observing off and on since I was a teenager in the Johnson administration (likely for the first time in 1964, when LBJ announced an "unconditional war on poverty in America"), but I don't think I got all the way to what made it so extraordinary. 

Of course one of the reasons it's different is that there's an overriding purpose to this particular speech tied directly to the presidential campaign, as Josh Marshall explains in his Backchannel:

there was one overwhelming sina qua non objective and that was to demonstrate that Biden is vigorous, up to the fight and can deliver on the key requirements of running a national campaign.

Biden clearly did as well with that as you could have hoped for, showing himself to be sharp, energetic, and a master of the detail, displaying passion, humor, and a very good memory. he's absolutely on top of it, as staff has claimed. Nobody who watched it could say he was frail, out of it, or suffering dementia, and we can be confident as he puts himself out to the public in the coming weeks and months that he'll be able to sustain that and an increasing number of voters will get it. He's plainly capable of doing both jobs, of presidential candidate and president; if there's a problem, whether it's bias against the elderly or Fox News or New York Times propaganda, it won't be because of anything actually wrong with him.

So that had been a huge worry among all kinds of Democrats, and I thought it should be a big point in the reaction to the speech, which it has been, and that's great.

But it's not the only point that deserves to be talked about.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Joe Did What? Welcome, Welcome, Welcome

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images via Wisconsin Examiner. Rumor has it that when Donald Trump sent out a post "WHAT HAPPENED TO NANCY?" last night it's because he'd forgotten why the guy in glasses was sitting in Speaker Pelosi's chair.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were—are, I suppose—masters of oratory, in their different ways, artists of the art of public speaking, Clinton charming you into his vision, Obama rousing you to fervency, but their State of the Union addresses were never their best speeches, weighed down with all the exhausting details they felt compelled to include. 

Joe Biden's art is not oratory but the art of governance, of which the State of the Union is a (sort of) constitutional part (of course the Constitution only requires him to send Congress a letter, of which he made a tremendous pantomime last night, passing the Vice President and Speaker their leather-bound copies before bringing his own to the lectern, I've never watched that happening before, but the camera loved it as he was doing it), and that maybe accounts for why they're paradoxically his best speeches, even though they may be his longest; he's so deeply aware that he's not just talking about governance, he's doing it, and democratically drawing us into the process, and the details are a fundamental part of that (and not just the part where, as the pundits like to say, the Devil is). The pleasure he takes in it is so evident that we can't help sharing it, and it rarely gets boring.

I dwell on it because it's something people often make a mistake about when they're observing Biden: so many times in the course of the Gaza war they've complained that words are not enough, actions are needed, when words are what they're really asking for (the oratorical call for a ceasefire), and actions are what we're getting (the political work of making a ceasefire happen, going on mostly behind closed doors).

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Martin Luther King on Steroids

Photo by Madeline Gray/Washington Post for Getty Images via Advocate.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Former President Donald Trump likened North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to Martin Luther King Jr. in an endorsement Saturday, despite the gubernatorial candidate’s long history of controversial comments about homosexuality, religion and victims of sexual abuse.

“This is Martin Luther King on steroids,” Trump said of Robinson at a pre-Super Tuesday rally in North Carolina.

“I told that to Mark. I said, I think you’re better than Martin Luther King. I think you are Martin Luther King times two.” (NBC News)

In my alternative history novel, Martin Luther King on Steroids, I grapple with one of the big questions: What if Dr. King, instead of getting a Ph.D. in theology and following his father into the ministry and civil rights activism, had gone into pro wrestling, hooked up with the young Vince McMahon and medical genius Dr. Zahorian, and crafted himself a fantastic body with the help of drugs?

What kind of dreams would that young man have had? What kind of amazing job would he have done, getting himself recognized more and more? How different would our world be today? Let's just say there's a good chance he wouldn't have thought of organizing a nonviolent civil rights movement based on the principles of Tolstoy and Gandhi, successfully pressured the US government into passing the Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Fair Housing Acts, or lost his life to an assassin's bullet during a campaign for fairness to Memphis garbage collectors.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Chicken Supremes

Cop with James Earle Fraser's statue of The Contemplation of Justice, waiting for the outcome of Trump vs. Anderson. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, via WJTV, Jackson, MS. 

I told you the main purpose of the Supreme Court in the Colorado case would be to avoid getting within 500 feet of an opinion on whether the adjudicated rapist and bank fraud Donald Trump ever violated his presidential oath by engaging in insurrection after he took the oath in 2017, and sure enough, they avoided it, though the three liberals, in their dissent-concurrence, did manage to use the phrase "oathbreaking insurrectionist" four times, which is all to the good.

The majority even avoided making the case about the questions of standing and venue—whether the plaintiffs (Colorado Republicans) had standing to sue to keep Trump off the ballot and whether the Colorado judiciary was the place to do it. Instead they argued, effectively, that there was nobody with standing and noplace for them to go anyway, and blaming that on Congress, I mean the Congress of the late 19th century, which had never passed any legislation telling people how it's supposed to get done, so it's useless: it's illegal for an oathbreaking insurrectionist to hold federal office, but impossible to stop him from doing it, because the technique is a lost secret of the ancients.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Immigration and Caesarism

Jessie Fuentes stands during an August 7 vigil organized by residents of Eagle Pass to protest Gov. Greg Abbot’s policies and to remember migrants who died crossing the Rio Grande. Fuentes is the owner of a kayak business in Eagle Pass, which he started after he retired in order to offer tours of the river. According to Manuel Ortiz, Fuentes is a deeply spiritual man and a lover of nature. He sees Abbot’s barriers as a violation of life, both of the people and of the natural world. “What the government is doing here is killing the river… They are destroying our community.” (Photo by Manuel Ortiz, via Ethnic Media Services)


I was enjoying this rightwinger response to the Senate's immigration bill, from Carl Goldman of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, at the Santa Clarita News

Fact #1: The proposed bill will legalize up to 5,000 adults to cross the border DAILY. Children are unlimited. That’s over 1.8 million per year, plus kids. Under the legislation the border never closes.

Fact #2: All future legal disputes will be taken away from the states and controlled by the US Federal DC District Court. This court is perhaps our most lenient court in the land. It would prohibit any Governor and any state Attorney General from effectively challenging any Federal immigration policy, such as the current “open border” crisis that saw 8.5 unvetted illegal immigrants enter the country under the Biden administration, an amount greater than the current population in 36 states.

Fact #3: The bill calls for 3,275 new border personnel. This sounds like a good thing, assisting the already overloaded border patrol. Read the fine print. These new employees won’t stop the flow. Their roll will be to speed up the processing.

Fact #4: Once this law is put into place, it will be extremely difficult to pass a new law tightening policies. It would tie the hand of future administrations from implementing a closure or partial closure of the border.

Fact #5: The Republican led House of Representatives passed HR 2 last May. It created a much more effective set of tighter immigration policies. To date, it has remained untouched for over nine months on US Senator House Majority leader, Chuck Schumer’s desk [except, as reader Foghorn Leghorn points out, when Ted Cruz added the text of HR2 as an amendment and the vote failed, 32-58].

These five facts alone should be enough to convince any rational individual questioning our current open border policy to run as far away from the Senate bill as possible. How any Republican or Democrat Senator could support this is creating insurmountable challenges for our country. Perhaps they skipped over a few of the 400 pages.

—when I started realizing he was right, in a way. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Social Construction of Babies


Christ in Limbo, by an unnamed follower of Hieronymus Bosch, ca. 1575. Via Wikipedia.

I think the really important thing about the "frozen embryos are babies" fiasco is the way it revealed that everybody actually knows they are not, right down to Nikki Haley and Donald J. Trump. This is something I've been thinking about for quite a while, not really reducing it to writing beyond the occasional Twitter thread, and I thought I might make it an occasion for laying my argument out at some length.

I mean, the Alabama case makes it especially clear. Haley and Trump really aren't aware that they know it, and if you ask the Republicans in a given sample straight out, "Are frozen embryos babies?", they may well give you the pious, but senseless, answer that Haley and Trump initially did, but if you make them think a bit about it instead, they'll realize easily enough that there's nothing morally wrong with throwing unneeded embryos in the garbage (if probably not getting that it's really better to donate them to scientific research). They'll just have an awfully hard time explaining why.

Because practically everybody knows that blastocysts are not children, and for that matter (in my opinion) that embryos and fetuses are not in and of themselves persons in anything like the legal sense either, though we may not realize we know it, or be able, if we do, to give it a philosophical explanation. Almost everybody sees one contradiction or another in the idea that every abortion is a murder. Almost nobody thinks a ten-year-old girl should be forced to carry a child begotten by a rapist uncle or father, almost nobody thinks a woman with a tubal pregnancy should have to let it kill her, and it's forbidden by Jewish law as well.

It's only maniacs like that Alabama chief justice who will stick to the original story; Trump got an adviser to come up with an alternative cliché, while Haley had to grasp at the straw of her own personal reality, even if it meant quietly acknowledging that Major Haley has in the course of his life jerked off for medical purposes into a plastic cup, probably at least twice, first testing the sperm count, then supplying the sperm (reader, there's no shame in that—I've done the test myself, though in our case IVF turned out not to be necessary):

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Joe Did What? Signs of Spring

I can't fault the movement in Michigan's Democratic primary tomorrow, mostly I think of Arab Americans but also of other Muslim and/or Black and/or young people, to vote for uncommitted delegates instead of the Biden slate, in protest against Biden's perceived lean toward Israel in the Gaza conflict—I mean, I can and will complain that they're reading Biden wrong, but I think it's right for them to communicate the distress on behalf of the Palestinians in Palestine as well as the Palestinians in Dearborn.

We've been told repeatedly, and rightly, about how traumatized Israelis have been by the horrible events of October 7, but I'm not sure how much the broader US public is getting on what's been happening to Arabs in Gaza and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank since October 8, but the number of killed in Gaza is now approaching 30,000, that's well over one out of every 100 people, not to mention those starving and killed by the lack of medical care and polluted drinking water.

The 1200 dead of October 7 were killed in unspeakably disgusting ways. I don't usually use the term "barbaric" because I think it's unfair to barbarians to suggest they are somehow similar to Colonel Chivington's force at the Sand Creek Massacre of around 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people in 1864

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Little Night Narratology


Got fixated on a peculiar detail of the government case against Alexander Smirnov, the main witness in the Republican complaint according to which Hunter Biden and Joe Biden took $5 million each in bribes from Hunter's Ukrainian employer, Mykola Zlochevsky, and nobody else seems to be paying attention to it. 

Smirnov, a double agent working for Russian intelligence services and the FBI, gave the latter the story of the bribery, with advice as to how they could go about gathering evidence to back it up, and the Bureau gave it to Rep. James Comer and Senator Charles Grassley, who hoped to use it as a gigantic and appalling climax to their attempt to impeach the president, except, as we now know, when the special prosecutor found a moment to check the story out (34 months after receiving it), it turned out to be completely bogus, Smirnov's invention or that of his Russian handlers, and the Republicans' impeachment case, such as it was, is smashed to pieces, Smirnov is now under indictment for his deceit, and the prosecutor is trying to have him detained before trial, as a flight risk.  

It's in that document, special counsel David Weiss's request to deny bail to Smirnov, that the story of his collaboration with Russians emerged publicly for the first time, in the context of Weiss's long-delayed investigation of Smirnov's allegation—a story of Russian intelligence services promulgating disinformation to help elect Donald Trump to the presidency, which is, as you know, one of my favorite kinds of stories to tell, and the first big one of the 2024 campaign—so of course I was looking at it, and noticed this narrativium-packed paragraph (where Public Official 1 is the president and Businessperson 1 is his son):

Monday, February 19, 2024

Carpe Narrativium

President Lincoln with a serving of Salmon P.  Chase. "Tod" is a reference to Ohio governor David Tod, who declined Lincoln's invitation to take over from Chase as treasury secretary. Not finding a decent credit or even a damned date, but guessing 1864. 

Happy Presidents Day (Benjamin Dreyer says no apostrophe) to those who observe it, which my radio station did this morning by asking listeners to report whether they'd ever voted enthusiastically for rather than against a candidate in a presidential election, with a sense of excitement and hope. The response was overwhelmingly Democratic, which is a bit unusual on this show for this kind of topic, I thought, and mostly oriented to charisma, as you might expect, with references to John (and Robert Sr.) Kennedy and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, with a McGovern here and a Sanders there, and even a sweet warm tribute to Biden from a woman with Irish affiliations. But no McCain on the one hand or Trump on the other representing the love languages of Republicans. Perhaps it was hard for the Trumpies to make sense of the question, since what they love about their candidate is so tightly tied to the hatreds they believe he shares with them.

I kind of would have wanted to call in myself, or at least send in a text, just to illustrate for the public how it's possible to get emotional over an idea as opposed to an aura, and might well have tried, but I was in the shower. I was particularly stimulated because of the show's previous segment, an interview with the Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeyns, on her newly published book, Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth, which is just what it sounds like, an argument in favor of capping the amount of money an individual can control, like no billionaires, or Plato's proposal in The Laws that no citizen should be more than four times as wealthy as the poorest ones, although that turns out to be a bit spoiled in the details, as in his plan for a Cretan city to be called Magnesia, where every family will be granted an equal plot of land:

Two-thirds of the annual harvest of the land lot will be reserved for the members of the family and their slaves, and one-third is subject to compulsory sale to alien residents, that is, the metics, and foreign visitors. The reason for this regulation of distribution of the annual harvest is the fact that in Plato’s Cretan city the citizens are not allowed to work in any kind of profession of paid labour, which has to be done by metics. And as by the principle of ideopragy [sic: should be "idiopragy" meaning an extremely restrictive version of everybody sticking to their own thing] the citizens of Magnesia are not allowed to have more than one profession, that is, as farmers on their lots, they cannot become craftsmen or traders on the markets at the same time.

Yes, they've got non-citizens—slaves, and migrants (metoiki) as well—to whom the inequality rules don't apply. (By way of comparison, in the equally idealized Hebrew communities of Deuteronomy, migrants will be subsidized along with widows and orphans out of the taxes collected from landowners by the Levite priesthood/bureaucracy.)

Anyway, that, in point of fact, is what I'd have liked to have talked to old Brian about, as a bit of a limitarian myself, ever since the Occupy movement of 2011 followed by the appearance of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century in 2013-14. That was a big deal, though hardly anybody seems to want to talk about it any more except for a few economists. 

Nobody mentioned Piketty's name or the Occupy protests on the radio today (though Piketty has written a very nice blurb for Robeyns's book, as has our Substack friend John Quiggin, to whose blog Crooked Timber Robeyns has contributed), but the moment was colossal for me, and I waited a long time for a politician to start addressing it. That was Elizabeth Warren, who I voted for in the 2020 primary. Biden's plans in the campaign didn't talk much about the theory, but matched it in practical terms: he was calling for hikes in income, capital gains, and payroll taxes on individuals with incomes over $400,000, plus increases in corporate tax, to raise $3.3 trillion over the coming decade; and increases in the generosity of the Child Tax Credit and Dependent Tax Credit, at least for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a way of directly redistributing income from high to low. The latter would see incomes rise by 10.8% for the bottom fifth and 3.6% for the next fifth in 2021, while incomes for the top 99th percentile would fall by 11.3%. That's what I'm talking about! And that's why I was excited about voting for Biden. 

And of course other things, like his straightforward condemnation of the Trump administration's handling of the George Floyd protests—

“Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either. But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division,” Biden said. “I won’t fan the flames of hate. I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain.”

and of their catastrophic mistakes on the Covid crisis

As COVID-19 swept across our country, Trump bungled testing, leaving us with persistent shortages and delays even now. And, Trump inexcusably failed to get protective equipment to the heroes on the front lines of this fight, opting to side with corporate lobbyists instead of heeding Vice President Biden's call to fully invoke the Defense Production Act to mobilize our economy to fight the virus.... Even after months of abject failure on COVID-19, Trump still refuses to take the threat seriously, repeatedly claiming that it will simply "disappear" even as he and his allies attack public health officials and undermine the basic measures we need to control the virus.

    But every decent Democrat would have managed those things; it was the tax ideas that really got to me. I thought he was by far the most radical presidential candidate I'd ever seen with a chance of winning.

    And they weren't just campaign promises, either; after the election, as the incoming administration began preparing its 2021 agenda, they worked closely with Warren and her Pikettyan advisers Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman to craft a plan of even greater scope, the original "Build Back Better". Not that Biden could have brought it to reality, with the obdurate senators Sinema and Manchin determined to prevent it, but it was such an inspiring list of ideas, and he really did get a good deal of it done, as I've been arguing all over the place. 

    And just today, surfacing at Brad DeLong's site, some extremely convincing evidence of how it's been working so far to decrease economic inequality:

    The chart from a recent post by Arindrajat Dube at Project Syndicate, "Credit Bidenomics For Rising US Wages".

    It's not a lot, but it's real. The first time since the 1960s that real wage inequality in the US has declined over a substantial period. And that's why I'm eager to vote for him again, too.

    Which is in turn why I keep harping, if you'll forgive me, on the Biden-is-old frenzy. I'm just this side of seeing it as a conspiracy:

    Shitheads like Cenk Uygur too, for that matter. Is this whole thing a trick to replace Biden with an attractive, well-spoken, otherwise unimpeachably liberal tax-hater?

    Heather Cox Richardson, as it happens, celebrated Presidents Day with a piece on Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election year 1864, when he looked like he was in real trouble—no polling in those days, but there was a wide belief he was going to lose, not because he was too old, but because the war was going very badly, and the party's radical wing felt he was moving too cautiously, both on the prosecution of the war effort and the  were plotting to replace him with the treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase. He fought that challenge off in June, but another one was rising from those who thought Lincoln was too radical himself:

    Thurlow Weed, New York’s kingmaker, thought Lincoln was far too radical. Weed cared deeply about putting his own people into the well-paying customs positions available in New York City, and he was frequently angry that Lincoln appointed nominees favored by the more radical faction.

    That frustration went hand in hand with anger about policy. Weed was upset that the Republicans were remaking the government for ordinary Americans. The 1862 Homestead Act, which provided western land for a nominal fee to any American willing to settle it, was a thorn in his side. Until Congress passed that law, such land, taken from Indigenous tribes, would be sold to speculators for cash that went directly to the Treasury. Republicans believed that putting farmers on the land would enable them to pay the new national taxes Congress imposed, thus bringing in far more money to the Treasury for far longer than would selling to speculators, but Weed foresaw national bankruptcy. 

    Even more than financial policy, though, Weed was unhappy with Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which moved toward an end of human enslavement far too quickly for Weed.

    While the Union Democrats were converging on a still more conservative candidate, General George McLellan, whose supporters

    rejected the new, popular measures the national government had undertaken since 1861—the establishment of state colleges, the transcontinental railroad, the new national money, and the Homestead Act—insisting on “State rights.”

    Needless to say, Lincoln did win that election (partly by pulling in a Democrat as vice presidential candidate, Andrew Johnson, which now looks maybe like not such a great move), as the war finally turned around (people loved the state colleges and the railroad and the Homestead Act—the inflationary Greenback was not so popular). 

    Cox Richardson's apparent insinuation, that maybe Joe Biden might still pull it off, isn't outlandish. Inflation is under control, in spite of last week's blip. Russia is terrifying, with their murders and space nukes, and Trump can't stop offering them "whatever the hell they want". The threat of a national abortion ban at 16 weeks is real. There's a Do-Nothing Congress that makes the 1948 Republicans look normal. Infrastructure is nevertheless getting built, good jobs are still plentiful. There's been real reform on assault weapons and drug prices. Biden's conduct in Israel will look infinitely less awful if his bet pays off and his alliance with the hostage families defeats Netanyahu. Forgiven student loans add up to $37.7 billion and there's more to come. Trump will have at least one criminal conviction, hopefully two, before November. Kamala Harris gets more and more visible and she's looking great.

    Obviously it's not a sure thing, and obviously it's scary. Trumpism informed by the lessons they learned since the last round is a horrible danger. Maybe we should start organizing against the threat, to the civil service and the Justice Department. What Democrats should stop doing is pinning our hopes on a deus ex machina, or a miracle constitutional provision, or a savior out of the blue; we have to learn how to live with the situation that exists, and enjoy whatever advantages it offers. Biden's qualities as president, whatever the polls are saying, are among the advantages; he's really good at it. If voters aren't clear about that, tell them. Biden should tell them too, no doubt, and media should report it when he does. If they refuse because they'd rather concern troll, call them out! This garbage from Nate Silver shouldn't pass without criticism:

    Biden is doing whatever he can to seize the narrative, maybe it's not good enough, though I think the press ghosting him is a bigger problem than that. Don't throw up your hands in despair. Do whatever you can. Thus spake the poaster.

    Cross-posted at the Substack.