Will the House Impeach Kavanaugh?

This isn’t an idle question. I think Jerry Nadler has been thinking about impeaching Brett Kavanaugh since the Senate confirmed his nomination to the Supreme Court. And this was reported about five weeks ago:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who chairs the subcommittee on the courts, issued a letter to the National Archives and Records Administration seeking records related to Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary and in the White House counsel’s office. Kavanaugh served in the White House from 2001 to 2006.

In particular, Nadler and Johnson are asking for all emails Kavanaugh sent or received as well as the “textual records contained in [his] office files.”

“In the coming year, the Supreme Court will again address important matters regarding civil rights, criminal justice, and immigration,” the two lawmakers wrote. “The Court may also review certain high-profile cases related to reproductive rights, the separation of powers, and the limits of executive authority — all topics within the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee.”

Nadler and Johnson wrote that they are seeking the records under the Presidential Records Act. The law provides congressional committees access to records that “contain information that is needed for the conduct of [their] business and that is not otherwise available.”

Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House came up during the so-called Senate conformation hearints, but the Trump administration was able to keep most of the records of that time hidden.

Now there is new reporting in the New York Times that Kavanaugh’s history of alleged sexual assault is more extensive, and far better documented, than previously reported. And there are new accusations that Kavanaugh perjured himself to Congress.

The Saturday report retraced Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, detailing a fast-tracked FBI investigation failed to interrogate more than two dozen potential witnesses in Ramirez’s case, one that ultimately gave Republican senators enough cover to confirm Kavanaugh. It also publicly recounts allegations by Max Stier, CEO of the nonpartisan Washington, DC, nonprofit Center for Presidential Transition, who says he saw Kavanaugh push his penis into the hand of a female student at Yale during a separate incident that didn’t involve Ramirez. Stier talked to the FBI about his allegation, but they did not investigate the matter.

Kavanaugh has categorically denied engaging in any sexually inappropriate behavior, from Ramirez’s allegations to those of Christine Blasey Ford, who said he drunkenly assaulted her in high school. He’s also denied that he drank excessively (to the point of blacking out) in high school and college — claims that several of his classmates and friends have denied.

Democrats called for an investigation into Kavanaugh’s “truthfulness” during the confirmation process, but got nowhere. As new information — and another allegation — comes out, there have been renewed calls to reopen investigations into the Supreme Court justice.

Once the New York Times story came out, the Democratic candidates wasted little time calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment. Amy Klobuchar said the confirmation process was a sham and that she wants the Department of Justice investigated for its role in withholding relevant documents.

The timing of the New York Times report is especially sweet, considering that the Department of Justice had just announce it was going to hang awards around the necks of the team that got Kavanaugh nominated.

The Justice Department will present one of its most prestigious awards to the lawyers who worked on the highly contentious Supreme Court nomination process of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Next month, Attorney General William P. Barr will present the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service to those who worked “to support the nomination” of the judge, according to an email reviewed by The New York Times.

All those people up for the award should be investigated as well.

Trump has been having a major twitter fit over this, of course, and thinks Kavanaugh should sue everybody accusing him of anything. I suspect Kavanaugh will not be doing that. There’s probably no hope of getting Kavanaugh removed from the court given the current Congress. However, the current Congress won’t be there forever.

It’s up to you, Congressman Nadler.

The Jesus Scam

I want to put aside talking about the awful Trump administration to instead talk about the awful Christian Right, specifically Jerry Falwell, Jr. A few days ago Politico published a long exposé on Falwell that accuses him of multiple ethical lapses and possible criminal activity.

Falwell is president of the nonprofit Liberty University, a 501(c)(3) organization. Under Falwell’s direction, Liberty has become less of a school and more of a real-estate empire.

Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains. Among the previously unreported revelations are Falwell’s decision to hire his son Trey’s company to manage a shopping center owned by the university, Falwell’s advocacy for loans given by the university to his friends, and Falwell’s awarding university contracts to businesses owned by his friends.

“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”

Falwell also has other interests, as summarized at TPM:

Jerry and his wife Becki seem to have a pattern of striking up intimate relationships with younger, extremely fit men; nude or provocative pics of Becki get into the mix somehow and then suddenly the younger guy is set up with his own business courtesy of a few million from the Falwells or Liberty University. …

…Provocative or nude photos of Becki Falwell also seem to be an open secret among top Liberty executives and even present in many inboxes.

Falwell also enjoys clubbing, which wouldn’t be a scandal except that Liberty University students are not allowed to drink and dance. So when Jerry and his son Trey are photographed at a Miami night spot, the photos have to be made to disappear.

Jerry brings in his cyber fixer from Liberty to make the pictures disappear. This is the same cyber-fixer who Michael Cohen hired to fix a series of online polls for Donald Trump back in 2015. How did he do that since the cyber-fixer works for Liberty University?

Well, he has a private consulting business on the side. He’s also now been promoted to the top at Liberty.

And then there is Falwell’s endorsement of Trump. The endorsement itself wouldn’t be a scandal, but he managed to drag Liberty University itself into Trump’s online poll fixing scheme by using a university social media account to promote one of the rigged polls. Politico quotes a tax expert: “A 501(c)(3) organization trying to influence a poll so that a candidate’s fortunes are promoted or demoted is not permitted.”

See also Jerry Falwell Jr., and the allegations against him, explained at Vox.

What is more American than big-name evangelicals getting caught in sex-and-money scandals? Certainly Falwell is part of the rich tradition of Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggart, and Jim Bakker. However, it should be said that Fallwell is not ordained; he’s a lawyer. Jesus is just the family business.

I take it from reading several articles that the students and faculty are very upset with Falwell. I’d feel bad for them except that they all appear to venerate the late Jerry Falwell, Sr., a despable segregationist whose political influence is still warping this country.

Debate Tonight

I’m going to be out and cannot watch the third (or fifth, depending on how you count them) Democratic debate. Feel free to comment here if you are watching. I’ll check in when I get home.

Tonight’s debaters, in no particular order, are Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, and Julián Castro.

In case you care, the candidates who didn’t make the debate “cut” but have not yet dropped out are billionaire vanity candidate Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, author Marianne Williamson, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak. It is not impossible that some of these lower-tier candidates will make it to the October debate, and indeed, according to Vox, Steyer has already qualified for October.

The debate is being billed as the long-awaited matcup between the two top guns, Joe Biden and Liz Warren. I predict the other candidates will be piling on both of them. Biden still leads in the polls, but there are indicators Warren may be the stronger contender over the long haul.

Update: Also, over on the right sidebar of the home page I have added a widget for my new book, The Circle of the Way: A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World. You can pre-order it now; it will be published November 12. If you don’t like Amazon you can order from an independent book store owner at this link.

Trump: A Pathological Liar Who Lies

Naturally, the creature used his remarks on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to glorify himself.

I was looking out of a window from a building in Midtown Manhattan, directly at the World Trade Center, when I saw a second plane, at a tremendous speed, go into the second tower.  It was then that I realized the world was going to change.  I was no longer going to be — and it could never, ever be — that innocent place that I thought it was.

Soon after, I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could.  We were not alone.  So many others were scattered around trying to do the same.  They were all trying to help.

He was allegedly in Trump Tower, on 5th Avenue between 56th and 57th streets. Trump Tower is said to have 58 floors. Trump has said he had a window that looked toward lower Manhattan and saw the planes strike the towers. Maybe. I’m skeptical he could have seen much, or anything, from that far away, about four miles. He has claimed elsewhere he could see bodies falling, but I was watching from West 17th street — a great deal closer — and I couldn’t see bodies falling.

But let’s say he could see that the towers were on fire from one of the upper floors in Trump Tower. I am more hysterical over the thought that the guy who made his mark on Manhattan real estate and Atlantic City casinos with the help of the mob ever thought the world was “innocent.”

The part about going to Ground Zero to help is complete bullshit, of course. He’s made these claims before; they’ve already been fact-checked.

Trump claimed that he assisted in cleanup efforts during the 2016 campaign. “Everyone who helped clear the rubble – and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit – but I want to tell you: Those people were amazing,” Trump said.

Trump was near Ground Zero soon after the attacks took place, but the White House has not corroborated the claim that he helped clear out rubble.

Richard Alles, a New York Fire Department retired deputy chief, was on the scene after the attacks. He told us he “was there for several months” and had “no knowledge of (Trump) being down there.”

See also:

According to Richard Alles, a retired deputy chief with the New York Fire Department, Mr. Trump was not a presence at ground zero.

“I spent many months there myself, and I never witnessed him,” Mr. Alles, who was at the Rose Garden event on Monday, said in an interview. “He was a private citizen at the time. I don’t know what kind of role he could have possibly played.”

If he had been there at all, even for an afternoon, somebody would remember it. They don’t. Indeed, for several weeks after the attacks private citizens who had no official business at Ground Zero were kept at a distance from the site. Firefighters and NYPD and members of trained rescue organizations were there, but most of us couldn’t just show up and start helping. The work was too dangerous and required protective gear (of which the responders didn’t get enough). It is absolutely not possible that Trump and Trump employees actually did anything at Ground Zero, especially without people taking note of it at the time.

Back to Trump’s remarks:

We saw American perseverance in the valiant New York firefighters, police officers, first responders, military, and everyday citizens who raced into the crashing towers to rescue innocent people.

I doubt that any “everyday citizens” were allowed to “race” into the towers while they were still standing to “rescue” anybody. Indeed, people who got out did so by walking down the stairs with their own feet. The only people “rescued” were a few people with severe burns who were sent away on ambulances while the towers were still standing, and the handful — twenty people, I believe — who survived the collapse. There really wasn’t a lot of rescuing. With that tragedy, you either were able to get yourself out, or you didn’t. This might seems like a minor quibble, and maybe it is, but it reflects the fact that Trump really doesn’t grasp what happened.

But we all do remember this:

On the day of the attack, Mr. Trump called into WWOR-TV to say that he had a window in Trump Tower that looked directly over the World Trade Center.

As the buildings burned, the show’s anchors praised his real estate prowess in a wide-ranging interview. Mr. Trump said that if he had decided to run for president in 2000, he would have taken a “hard line” on the perpetrators, and that he had “somebody down there” near the attack who had witnessed at least 10 people jumping out of the World Trade Center towers.

He also discussed a building he had in the area.

40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest — and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second tallest,” Mr. Trump said. “And now it’s the tallest.” (It wasn’t.)

Also, Trump gave NO MONEY to 9/11 charities. This has been checked exhausitvely. Nor has he ever retracted his false claim that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City cheering as the towers collapsed.

But now Trump has so corrupted the government he is bullying federal agencies to lie for him. And see especially Greg Sargent, “Trump’s war on truth just got a lot more cult-like.”

The Trump Taliban Fiasco

So this happened:

President Donald Trump has thrown almost a year of delicate peace negotiations with the Taliban into doubt after canceling a summit with leaders of the militant group, leading to fears of renewed Taliban violence in Afghanistan ahead of elections later this month.

Trump surprised everyone on Saturday night when he announced that a previously secret summit with Taliban leaders, due to take place in Camp David on Sunday, had been canceled, citing an attack by the terrorist group in Kabul last Tuesday that left one U.S. soldier dead.

The idea of inviting representatives of the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of the September 11 anniversary left a lot of conservative pundits sputtering. I’m almost sorry the big reveal at Camp David didn’t happen, because the explosion in Trump’s face would have been nuclear. And to think we probably wouldn’t have learned that Taliban had even been invited to Camp David had Trump not tweeted about it.

The original excuse for canceling an agreement with the Taliban was that Trump learned of a suicide attack that killed an American serviceman. But subsequent reporting revealed that the real reason was that the Taliban wanted the deal to be announced before they made the trip. For Trump, the whole point was that he wanted to get credit for the negotiation that would (he was no doubt ready to claim) end the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials told the New York Times that the meeting was canceled abruptly because the Taliban balked at Trump’s desire for a made-for-TV moment that would make it look like he finalized the peace deal at Camp David. The Taliban had wanted the deal signed before they traveled to the U.S., so that the Camp David meeting would a celebration of the agreement.

The Taliban wouldn’t go along with Trump’s Art of the Deal theater, so Trump lost his temper and pulled the curtains on the farce.

I’ve read that the government of Afghanistan had not been included in the negotiations, which seems rather hinky to me. The President of Afghanistan had been invited to the Camp David summit, presumably to rubber stamp whatever was agreed to and then smile for the camera. What the President of Afghanistan really thinks of all this I do not know.

According to a writer at Informed Comment, this was the deal that had been struck before Trump blew it up:

Within 135 days of signing a peace accord, the US would withdraw 5,400 of its 14,000 troops now in Afghanistan. It would depart from five military bases or give them to the Afghan military. If the Taliban meets US conditions, then all US troops would be withdrawn in 16 months.

This timetable would have had troops withdrawals going on during the November 2020 election, which I suspect was the point. And while I’m all in favor of getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, seems to me the real deal needs to be between the Taliban and the Afghani government, not us.

But inviting the Taliban to Camp David so near the September 11 anniversary also reveals that Trump is insensitive to how that would have felt to most Americans — like a capitulation. And now it’s believed the Taliban will have no reason not to ramp up the violence. People are going to get killed.

In other Trump news, we have learned that a top secret spy had to be removed from Russia because of intelligence Trump shared with the Russians. And there’s a new report on how Trump is trying to shake down Ukraine to give him dirt on Joe Biden.

Are We Close to a Tipping Point on Guns?

This is in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The big-box giant says it will stop selling handguns and ammunition for military-style weapons, and will discourage open-carry of guns in stores. It’s also calling on Congress for stronger gun safety measures.

To put it mildly, Walmart isn’t generally considered a socially progressive corporation. Which is what gives this announcement a certain Nixon-to-China credibility. If even Walmart, that defining icon of rural middle America, is standing up to the National Rifle Association and saying enough is enough, then the company has determined that, to a big portion of its customers — meaning, a big portion of America — enough is, indeed, enough.

The NRA took great umbrage at Walmart’s decision and fired a barrage of condemnation at Walmart that the Post-Dispatch writer, Kevin McDermott, takes apart. Very basically, McDermott points out that Walmart wouldn’t have made this decision out of the goodness of its heart or if there were any chance it would drive its blue-collar, largely small-town customers away. They are looking out for Walmart. And they have decided this is what the blue-collar, largely small-town customers want.

And we may have Dmitriy Andreychenko to thank for this. You might remember that Andreychenko is the nitwit gun rights activist who walked into a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, wearing full body armor and carrying a semiautomatic rifle, triggering a stampede out of the store. A few days later a couple of men entered a Walmart in Kansas City with handguns stuck in their waistbands, causing another customer stampede. In that case, the police decided the men were not breaking any laws and let them go. Missouri firearm laws are extremely lenient. Andreychenko, on the other hand, was engaged in theater and attempting to be provocative, and he was charged with a felony.

But the larger point is that Walmart, apparently, noticed that most shoppers are not at all comfortable around armed men they don’t know and has decided that the Second Amendment open carry wackjobs activists need to take the performance elsewhere.

The open carry of firearms is primarily performance. Whether the performer’s goal is to dramatize extreme gun rights, intimidate others, trigger the libs or cast oneself as the avenging hero in a miniseries of the mind, the practice is not just an assault on public safety. It’s a theater of the absurd.

There is no evidence that open carry makes any corner of society safer. There is, on the contrary, impressive evidence that carrying firearms increases aggression and gun violence. Open carry forces people in public thoroughfares to evaluate the mental state, physical demeanor and emotional intent of every armed person they see. How exactly does one differentiate open carry from homicidal carry?

This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of politicians who still are puppets of the NRA. Here in Missouri there is much anguish over the homicide rate in St. Louis, which until recently was the highest in the nation. This year the honor shifted across the river to East St. Louis, Illinois. The Post-Dispatch maintains a handy-dandy homicide map so you can see where the carnage is going on; the red dots, showing firearm deaths, dominate. There have been more than a dozen murders of children in drive-by shootings since April.

Per state law that went into effect in January 2017, Missouri residents can carry any damnfool firearm they want, concealed or openly, without a permit. Since that time firearm violence in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas has gotten worse. This is from a couple of weeks ago:

From huge rewards to calls for allowing Missouri cities to enact their own gun laws, leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City are grappling with a troubling rise in shooting deaths, especially those involving children.

This past weekend was especially violent. In Kansas City, four men were killed Sunday, including two in a drive-by shooting in a popular entertainment district. In St. Louis, six people were killed in shootings, including 8-year-old and 10-year-old girls and a 15-year-old boy.

Many of the victims of violence in the state’s two largest cities are black, and black Missouri lawmakers are asking Republican Gov. Mike Parson to allow the House and Senate to consider during a special session next month legislation that would let cities adopt their own gun control measures. In a letter dated Saturday, state Rep. Steven Roberts Jr. a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the 19-member Missouri Black Caucus, told Parson that local leaders need the autonomy to act as they see fit on “this pressing crisis.”

However, the state’s Republican troglodyte governor, Mike Parsons, refuses to consider allowing the cities to write their own gun control laws or to work with the legislature to change the state’s absurdly lenient laws.

These are violent times, even by St. Louis standards, with more than 130 homicides so far this year — mostly shooting deaths — a spike of almost two dozen from this time last year. Thirteen victims under 18 have died by firearms this year.

There’s no single cause of all this mayhem, but one issue is hard to ignore as a likely contributor: the Republican-controlled Legislature has, for years, been on a gun deregulation binge that has given the state one of the loosest sets of firearms laws in the country. Today, the state doesn’t require a background check when someone buys a gun from a private seller, doesn’t require a permit to carry that gun and doesn’t allow local jurisdictions like St. Louis to impose their own stronger rules.

The upshot is, a dangerous felon who isn’t legally allowed to have a gun can, in practice, easily buy one from any private dealer in Missouri and carry it around in public, with minimal legal mechanisms for police or anyone else to stop him before violence erupts. And we wonder why St. Louis can’t get these shootings under control?

But most of the teevee news watched in the small towns come out of St. Louis or Kansas City, or probably Springfield in the middle of the state, so everybody is getting inundated with the almost daily stories of gun deaths. This includes the children, some of them killed as they played outside their own homes. People who were fine with guns a few years ago may be getting sick of them now.

In an era of mass shootings, not knowing whether the armed individual next to you is a “law-abiding citizen” or an internet-addled murderer is its own kind of trauma. (And indeed, as the Trace has noted, at least two public shootings in open-carry states have been committed by individuals who’d been brought to the attention of police before they started firing but hadn’t been arrested because, until they started shooting, they hadn’t been doing anything illegal.) The Resurgent, a conservative site that revolves around the work of gun-happy right-wing pundit Erick Erickson, wrote this week that “If the pro-gun community doesn’t take some action to rein in people like Dmitriy Andreychenko, the right to carry a gun could be easily lost.”

In other words, even a few of the gun nuts are starting to realize that “open carry everywhere” could backfire on them.

Please also read “On Giving Up” by Alexandra Petri.

Today’s WTF? Auto Makers to Be Punished by the DoJ

The WTFs actually are coming along a lot faster than one a day, but I don’t have time to comment on them all. Here’s a relatively small and manageable one:

The Justice Department (DOJ) has opened an antitrust inquiry into 4 major automakers who recently struck a deal with California to boost emissions standards for their nationwide fleets, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The report, if correct, signals the opening of a new and high-stakes front in the fight between California and the White House over vehicle emissions and mileage rules.

Where it stands: The WSJ reports that DOJ is seeking to determine if Ford, VW, Honda and BMW “violated federal competition law by agreeing with each other to follow tailpipe-emissions standards beyond those proposed by the Trump administration.”

The story cites anonymous sources familiar with the matter. DOJ declined to comment.

The big picture: The reported probe comes as the Trump administration is preparing to freeze Obama-era carbon emissions and mileage standards, rather than allowing them to grow significantly stronger through the mid-2020s.

You know the automakers are not voluntarily agreeing to carbon emissions standards out of the goodness of their hearts. They are agreeing to carbon emissions standards because they are not complete morons and they know they’re going to have to lower emissions eventually, Trump or no Trump. Presidents come and go; reality has a tendency to stick around, even when you try to ignore it. Paul Krugman:

Business leaders aren’t do-gooders, but they are realists. Most of them understand that climate change is happening, that it’s dangerous, and that we’ll eventually have to transition to a low-emissions economy. They want to spend now to secure their place in that future economy; they know that investments that worsen climate change are bound to be long-run losers. But they’ll hold off on investing in our energy future as long as conspiracy theorists who consider global warming a gigantic hoax — and/or vindictive politicians determined to erase Obama’s achievements — keep rewriting the rules.

By all accounts Trump is furious that the automakers aren’t lining up to genuflect to him in gratitude. I believe he ordered Barr to punish them, somehow.

Trump doesn’t actually understand building a sustanable business, especially manufacturing. He understands exploitation and grifting, which according to Krugman is the only part of the economy that is doing well under his stewardship.

To be fair, however, some kinds of business do thrive under Trumpism — namely, businesses that aren’t in it for the long run, operations whose strategy is to take the money and run. These are good times for mining companies that rush in to extract whatever they can, leaving a poisoned landscape behind; for real estate speculators sponsoring dubious ventures that take advantage of newly created tax loopholes; for for-profit colleges that leave their students with worthless degrees and crippling debt.

In other words, under Trump it’s springtime for grifters.

Grifting is all that Trump understands. He may not comprehend that most businesses can’t operate that way, at least if they want to remain in business for many years.

Trump promised to bring back manufacturing jobs, and instead the manufacturing section is shrinking.

In December 2018, American manufacturing was ending a more than two-year tear, cheered along the way by its most prominent patron, President Trump. …

…But this year, manufacturing has turned south and entered what Federal Reserve data show is a technical recession, or six-month slump. It seems unlikely to recover in the near future: A major survey of U.S. manufacturing purchasing managers found a negative outlook, and the other is just a whisker away from going negative for the first time since 2009.

The article linked above on manufacturing is worth reading. In brief, it analyzes the several factors that impact the manufacturing sector and explains why the things Trump has done to bring back manufacturing jobs either resulted in a brief bump that quickly dissipated; had no effect either way; or made things worse. And, of course, there are many factors out of Trump’s control.  And the bottom line is that Trump doesn’t appear to grasp any of this. The article argues that he’s an industrial-age president in a post-industrial world.

Trump’s 19th-century mindset may have a lot to do with why hardly a week goes by without news of some bit of protected federal land being opened up to mining or logging or (especially) extraction of fossil fuels. Trump must think this is the way economies grow. See A Timeline of Donald Trump’s War on Public Lands. See also Trump is trying to unload America’s public lands to oil companies before the election:

…officials in the Trump administration, some of whom came straight out of the industries from which they are supposed to be protecting the environment, have been rushing to auction off leases — no doubt with an eye to the election calendar and the current president’s poll numbers. If there’s any good news to be found in the speeded-up process, it’s that in their haste the paperwork has reportedly been so badly botched that legal challenges will likely succeed.

In pushing to open ANWR to drilling, the Trump administration estimated two years ago that it would earn the federal government $1.8 billion in lease sales by 2027. The Congressional Budget Office said a few months later that it would be more like $1.1 billion; it has since reduced its estimate to $900 million. But a recent New York Times analysis put the likely federal revenue at $45 million, and the Taxpayers for Common Sense group put it even lower — about $20 million. Regardless of which of the numbers is correct, it’s a relatively paltry sum in return for significant risk of irreversible damage to a remote region that is crucial to so many species.

Further, humankind must move away from relying on oil and other fossil fuels for energy. Expanding the amount of public lands that can be leased for oil production is against the nation’s long-term interests. The U.S. already is the world’s largest producer of oil; adding new oil from Alaska is not necessary for the economy and will just make it harder to achieve the reductions of carbon emissions that are required to keep from cooking the planet.

Take the money and run — that’s all Trump understands. There’s a resource just sitting there that’s worth some money, so let’s get it and sell it, even if demand for the resource is soft and the long-term consequences of taking it are huge.

But let us go back to AG Barr and his antitrust probe into automakers. This is in the NY Times:

In a clear signal that the administration intends to press the matter aggressively, top lawyers from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department on Friday sent a letter of rebuke to Mary Nichols, California’s top clean air official. “The purpose of this letter is to put California on notice” that its deal with automakers “appears to be inconsistent with federal law,” the letter read. …

Legal experts and people close to the Trump administration said the investigation was meant as a show of force to companies that have displeased the president.

That’s what this whole mess is about. Trump is displeased. He tried to do the automakers a favor, and they didn’t appreciate it. So they must be punished.

Critics of the antitrust probe argue that this is a deal between the state of California and four automakers, meaning it’s a state and not a federal case. And there is no way that Bill Barr can argue the Department of Justice is trying to protect consumers.


Now They’ve Pissed Off the Irish

What’s going on in the UK is about as frightening as what’s going on in the US, which is saying something considering we’re facing a massive storm on our east coast and our president is mentally defective. Instead of Nero fiddling while Rome burns, we’ve got Trump tweeting about his personal grievances (including two new tweets about Debra Messing) while the Carolinas are beset with floods and tornados. Stay safe, people.

But the UK is in big trouble, folks. What’s going on in Brexit could cause it to break up. This is especially critical for Northern Ireland, because Brexit would create a hard border between N.I. and the Republic of Ireland, which few people on the island want. There is also a fear that a hard border could re-ignite the Troubles.

Before Brexit, I never thought a united Ireland would be something seriously discussed as a possibility within our lifetime. Now it is getting widespread consideration.

There is a palpable fear that the conflict in the north could be reignited by the British government’s refusal to accept the backstop, the continued breakdown of power-sharing in Stormont, the hundreds of UK police that could reportedly be deployed to the border in the event of no deal, and recent attacks by the New IRA. As the political system in Britain seems to be fracturing, in Ireland the main parties have remained unified in support for the backstop, as have the major pro-remain parties in the north, which see it as key to protecting the peace.

This BBC page explains what the “backstop” is:

The backstop is a position of last resort, to maintain a seamless border on the island of Ireland.

It would involve the UK retaining a very close relationship with the EU for an indefinite period.

It will apply if the UK and EU have not agreed a final deal at the end of a standstill transition period or if that final deal does not guarantee a soft border.

It will not apply if the UK leaves without a deal in October.

The EU have insisted that any Brexit deal must contain the backstop.

When both the UK and the Republic of Ireland were members of the EU in good standing, commerce on the island was mostly open and seamless. A hard Brexit would put the two parts of the island in different customs and regulator regimes, the BBC says. There would be military at the border. People would need passports to go from one part to the other.

Northern Irish already are splitting along unionist and non-unionist lines. The non-unionists don’t want Northern Ireland choked off economically from the rest of the island, but the unionists fear that any arrangement made just for Ireland would threaten the union. Pro-Brexit British fear the backstop would trap the UK into the EU customs union, like it or not. And old enmities are bubbling up again. See Northern Ireland conflict 50 years on: will a no-deal Brexit threaten the peace?

So, it is understandable that the Irish are really upset about Brexit and mostly wish they’d never heard of it.

And then Mike Pence came to visit. Miriam Lord in the Irish Times:

US vice-president Mike Pence met President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Tuesday during an official visit. His Irish hosts, up to their oxters for the last three years in Brexit worry, hoped to impress upon him Ireland’s fears about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the country.

He could, maybe, stick in a supportive word for us in his talks with Boris Johnson in London – his next port of call.

Pence, after all, is Irish American and wastes no opportunity to go misty-eyed about his love for the “Old Country” as he lards on his Mother Machree schtick on both sides of the Atlantic. He couldn’t praise Ireland enough on Tuesday – “deeply humbled” and “honoured” to be going to the hometown of his mother’s grandmother and so on.

But, after he said all these nice things about the “Emerald Isle” and how much his boss Donald Trump – he sent his best wishes, by the way – appreciates us and all we do to help American security in Shannon, he delivered a very strong endorsement of Boris Johnson and Brexit.

No room left for doubt. As Pence read from the autocue and Irish eyes definitely stopped smiling, it was clear he was channeling His Master’s Voice. Trump is a fan of Brexit and of Boris.

And this, after such a lovely morning, with Pence and his mother meeting the Taoiseach and his mother.

His Irish mother, as Mike calls her. He dotes on Nancy. So he should have known that any Irish mammy will tell you if you can’t say anything good, say nothing at all.

Instead, he veered off his rather gushing statement following his meeting with the Taoiseach into some crunching Brexit remarks about our duty to do right by Boris Johnson and the UK.

As the air in the steamy ballroom turned decidedly frosty, Pence urged Ireland and the European Union “to negotiate in good faith” with the new British prime minister.

Lord accused Pence of shitting on the carpet. Others in Ireland were similarly pissed:

The Guardian called Pence’s visit and comments “awkward.” Irish Central asked in a headline: “Did VP Pence betray Ireland in his Brexit comments during Irish trip?” An Irish Examiner column accused Pence of trying to “humiliate” Ireland.

“The cheek of him coming here, eating our food, clogging up our roads and then having the nerve to humiliate his hosts,” wrote political editor Daniel McConnell.

On this side of the pond there has been focus on Pence’s stay at Trump’s financially struggling hotel and golf course in Doonbeg, County Claire, which is not exactly convenient to Dublin.

Pence didn’t drive; he flew from Doonbeg to Dublin on Air Force Two. Wonder how much THAT cost?

To add insult to injury, one of the shifting excuses for this bare-assed money grab by Trump was that Trump’s hotel was required to “accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel,” Pence said. He might have meant it was the only place in Doonbeg that could accommodate the footprint, but the whole episode basically stinks out loud.

Kind of sad, considering the way things used to be between the U.S. and Ireland.

I understand the only people who turned out for Pence were some gay rights activists. But if Trump thought this would be good publicity for his golf club, he might be disappointed. Brexit will do the Irish economy no good, and the people in his base are more likely to vacation in Branson than in Doonbeg.

The Gun Problem Is Guns

Dharma help us, but Marianne Williamson wrote an op ed about the gun violence crisis. I actually agree with some of it. This includes the part in the second paragraph where she says he must break the influence of money in politics; can’t argue with that.

Sometimes she gets too wound up in saying something clever rather than sensible. “It is not just our gun policy but our politics that fails to free us of this insanity.” Um, sweetums, “gun policy” and “politics” are kind of inextricably bound together. Then she says,

America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.


Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be. Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate. Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.

Right. But there is one critical word that doesn’t appear anywhere in Williamson’s op ed. That word is greed. Our environmental policies cater to greed rather than protection. Greed is the real creator of poverty, IMO. I also would argue the military policies and most of the other stuff Williamson complains about are rooted in greed. If there is violence, it is greed fueling the violence. Toss in some ignorance, especially bigotry, and fear with that and you’ve accounted for it all. Violence is just a by-product. And government isn’t mitigating the effects of greed because of corruption.

Williamson’s Big Idea is to create a Department of Peace to battle the culture of conflict, which amounts to more wasted money, IMO. The eternally flakey Dennis Kucinich has been pushing a Department of Peace for a long time; these two should get together. But that’s the problem with the New Agey types; they are big on how everybody should be more about love and kindness, but they have no idea why they aren’t or how to bring about change. Williamson’s general method is to snarl at people about how they should be nicer. See also this passage from a New York Times article about Williamson

She finished her speech in New Hampshire to great applause and asked for questions, but nobody wanted to know how “a politics of love,” as she called it, would handle, say, President Vladimir Putin’s annexing Crimea, or how it would prevent a mass shooting, which were things she had thought about deeply and had specific and elaborate plans for. They didn’t want to know about her Department of Children and Youth or her Department of Peace. No, they wanted self-help. A woman raised her hand and said she didn’t know what to do about her trauma and her rage these days — how she couldn’t find forgiveness for the people who voted for Trump, even though those people weren’t exactly asking for it. “It’s like I’ve been infected,” the woman said. “How do I manage that?”

Williamson told her she has no time for people traumatized by the election.

Well, then, I have no more time for Williamson, and with any luck she soon will fade back into the pop culture woodwork. So let’s go on.

What’s killing the United States and the planet is greed and corruption. Gun violence is just a by-product; it’s greed and corruption that keeps turning up the flames of gun-rights zealotry, making us by far the most heavily armed citizenry on the planet. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s populations and an estimated 41 percent of the world’s civilian-owned firearms.

And that’s why we have a gun violence problem. I suspect any other group of people as heavily armed as we are would be shooting each other a lot, too. The presence of guns makes shooting a lot more likely. And there is a plausible argument to be made that the presence of guns stokes violent behavior, a phenomenon known in social psychology as the “weapons effect.”

As long as our knee-jerk reaction to gun violence is to buy more guns, our gun violence problem is just going to get worse. The problem of guns is guns.

Scientific American:

In a 2015 study using data from the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University reported that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus those with the least. Also in 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not.

In the minds of gun activists, strangers are eternally plotting to break into their homes and kill them, so they need a gun. I looked; the enormous majority of home break-ins are burglaries that take place when the residents are not at home. According to this, about 86 to 100 people a year in the U.S. are murdered by burglers who broke into their home, possibly, but the way the crime data is reported makes it all kind of murky. But let’s say 100 Americans a year are murdered by strangers invading their homes.

(Also, FYI, according to FBI crime statistics, where the relationship between the victim and perpetrator is known, only about 10 percent of homicide victims are killed by complete strangers. Apparently it’s the people you know you’ve got to watch.)

Compare/contrast to the nearly 2,900 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) who are shot and killed in the U.S every year, many of whom died by the gun their parents bought “for protection.” Nearly 15,600 are shot and injured. But you can’t tell the gun fanatics that having a gun in their home is a danger to their family. They need to “for protection.” They will not look at the data. They will not listen to reason. They have to have that gun.

Where is that fear coming from? At least some of it is being manufactured by gun lobbyists and the NRA, I’m sure. Our children have to die so that some people can make more money.

Yes, it’s madness, but the first path out of the madness is to reduce the prevalence of guns. I don’t see any way around that. As long as Americans are acquiring more and more guns, they are going to be more and more violent.

How to reduce the number of guns in circulation is another question, and I am sure there will be no magic bullet. And, ultimately, the greed has to be called out and punished, and we need a functioning government to do that. Well, good luck to us.

Being President Is Boring

At first Trump might have thought the Hurricane Dorian thing was a lucky break, since it gave him an excuse to cancel a boring trip to Poland. It was doubly lucky because Trump was also supposed to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. Trump might have had to explain why he is holding up military aid meant to help Ukraine confront Russia. This was just a week after National Security Nutjob John Bolton assured Ukraine that U.S. aid would “intensify.” Oops! Trump sent Mike “the Weasel” Pence to bullshit on behalf of the administration instead.

So that business dispatched, Trump retreated to Camp David to monitor the hurricane. But Camp David is so boring. Nothing there but a driving range and a one-hole putting green. So on Saturday he took one of his taxpayer-funded helicopters to Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Virginia, to play 18 holes.

Still, there was that pesky hurricane thing going on he was supposed to be monitoring. On Sunday he had to sit through a boring FEMA briefing on the hurrican’s progress. Here he is attempting to pay attention.

I mean, the only part of the briefing that appeared to interest him was whether the hurricane would likely make landfall on one of his properties in south Florida.

“Let me just ask you,” the president said, showing an unusual interest. “Two days ago we were given a really comprehensive briefing and they seemed to think, almost every prediction was that [the storm] was going to go right through Florida and into the Gulf — actually right across Florida.”

“Does that not have a chance of happening now?” he asked. “What do you think the chances that it goes directly straight as the original predictions were?”

When assured that most of the models showed the hurricane staying in the Atlantic and moving further north up the east coast, Trump went back to trying to fake attention. After the briefing he spoke some words in a bored monotone about people keeping safe. However, more than once yesterday he said that the hurricane could strike Alabama, which indicates he either doesn’t know where Alabama is or he still wasn’t grasping where the hurricane might actually go.

Trump also was baffled by the designation “category 5,” saying he’d never heard of such a thing, which is the same thing he said about Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael. Boring science stuff is boring.

Trump’s twitter feed today is full of National Weather Service hurricane projections, probably posted by White House staff. But over the weekend Trump let us know what was really on his mind, which was mostly a lot of petty grievances. For example —

If you actually care why Trump is mad at Debra Messing, or if you can’t remember who Debra Messing is, here is the background.

But now Trump is supposed to pretend he cares about a monster hurricane that will impact a lot of little people he doesn’t know. So boring. However, it’s not 100 percent certain south Florida is out of harm’s way, in which case he might pay attention.