Missouri: The Screw Me State

After years of Reaganist propaganda that government bleeps everything up, I guess the voters here just expect government to bleep everything up and are not alarmed at the ongoing bleeping up being committed by the state government. Otherwise, citizens would be outraged. The state government is so bleeping incompetent I’d suggest taking all authority away from it and just hiring some managers to straighten things out.

To catch you up, here’s Rachel Maddow on June 3. This video is of the entire program, but the segment to watch begins at about the 1 minute mark. Here’s the transcript if you’d rather just read what was said.

And there is a very real possibility that whoever replaces Sen. Roy Blunt when he retires at the end of next year will be even worse than Josh Hawley. There’s always been a big wackjob element in the state, going back as far as I can remember, but they were never as totally in charge as they are now.

Here’s an update on Kevin Strictland, the man Maddow discussed who has been imprisoned for four decades for murders that even the prosecutors admit he didn’t do. All of the evidence that got him convicted four decades ago has completely fallen apart. It is now beyond all doubt that he was wrongly convicted. The legislature actually did something useful and passed a bill that would allow local prosecutors who believe a prisoner has been wrongly convicted to take that case to court to overturn the conviction and get the prisoner released.

The bill is waiting on the governor’s signature. For that matter, the governor could just pardon Strictland and get him released today. But the governor, Mike Parson, is dragging his worthless feet. ABC News reported,

Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says addressing the clemency petition for a man who’s been behind bars for a triple murder for more than four decades is not a “priority,” even though prosecutors say he didn’t commit the crime.

Parson noted that Kevin Strickland, 62, was tried “by a jury of his peers” and found guilty. But he added that he knew there was “a lot more information out there.”

Did I mention that Kevin Strictland is Black? Also, Parson found the time to pardon 36 people just before the June 3 Rachel Maddow segment aired, and he pardoned 13 other people in May, but other than their names I can’t find any information about those people.

Gov. Parson is finding the time to sign another piece of legislation; he’s doing it tomorrow with great fanfare and ceremony. This is the Second Amendment Preservation Act. “HB 85 declares that it’s the duty of the courts and law enforcement agencies to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. It also declares as invalid all federal laws that infringe on the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment,” it says here. It’s unconstitutional as all get-out, but it’s being signed. I take it from the article linked that this bit of nonsense began to take shape in January, when rural residents and their representatives became hysterical in the belief that there would be a Democratic president who would grab their guns.

Maddow’s segment didn’t talk about the Medicaid disaster. Last year the voters passed a resolution calling for Medicaid to be expanded under the Affordable Care Act. A couple of months ago I wrote that the state government refused to fund it. So there will be no expansion. This refusal was in spite of the fact that the federal government covers 90 percent of the cost of new Medicaid patients and that Parson at the time was, and probably still is, sitting on more than $1 billion in unspent federal covid aid. Lawsuits have been filed.

But now there’s a fight over what cheapskate Medicaid benefits Missouri already hands out. The legislature is fighting over the tax appropriation to fund it. And you’ll never guess why certain conservative Republicans refused to vote for the tax appropriation. It says here, “some senators wanted to attach items to it that would bar Medicaid from paying for certain contraceptives and prevent Planned Parenthood from getting funding.”

Planned Parenthood doesn’t get direct funding from Medicaid; it gets reiumbursements for providing medical services to Medicaid recipients. The infamous Hyde Amendment, still on the books, does not allow Medicaid money to reimburse the cost of abortions. Republican legislatures don’t want Planned Parenthood to be reimbursed for things like cancer screenings and STD testing, either. Exactly what’s going to happen to the state Medicaid program if the tax isn’t passed is not clear, but as I understand it, it’s a matching funds thing, so if the state pays less the feds pay less also.

As I wrote in April, rural hospitals are closing in the state because people who use them are uninsured and can’t pay their bills. Ten hospitals have closed in Missouri since 2016. Expanding Medicaid would go a long way toward getting more money into hospitals to keep them open.

However, I was not aware until this current flap that Missouri raises its share of the Medicaid funding by taxing hospitals, which is the kind of colossally stupid thing only a Missouri legislator would think of. I don’t believe even Mississippi does that. Most states take their part of the Medicaid funding from general funds.

The state has big problems. Much of the rural areas of the state, especially in the southeast section, are desperately poor. Life expectancy is going down; crime, drug use, child abuse and neglect, are going up. These are the voters Mike Parson and Republican legislatures like to favor, because most of those voters are white and vote Republican, but he “favors” them with pro-gun legislation, which is the last thing they actually need. Health care? Jobs programs? Any kind of development? Nah. Let’s dither around and make sure they can’t get abortions. Since the only abortion provider in the state is in St. Louis, that’s pretty much the case already.

Gov. Mike Parson, who perhaps needs a life coach to help him organize his time..

What Really Happened in Lafayette Square Park

You may have seen the headlines declaring that an Interior Department’s inspector general report decided that Lafayette Park was not forcibly cleared last year for Trump’s Bible Stunt. Closer inspection of said report reveals that’s not exactly what it says.

The report documents that a decision to clear the park and surround it with non-scalable fencing had been made prior to Trump’s formulation of the Bible Stunt. However, the report (which has redacted bits) also more than hints that said plans were accelerated once it became known that Trump might visit the area later that day, June 1. People quoted in the report denied that the timetable was accelerated, but it sure as hell looks accelerated.

Do turn your attention to page 14 (or PDF page 17) of the report.

At about 6:10 — while reporters were gathering to the Rose Garden for a 6:15 announcement — AG Bill Barr entered the park with his security detail and some White House staff. Barr spoke to the U.S. Park Police officer in charge. This officer told Barr to move away because the area was unsafe. Barr expressed displeasure that the protesters were still there; he thought they would be gone by that point, he said. The report continues,

The USPP operations commander told us he advised the Attorney General that they were getting into position to move the crowd. He stated he again advised the Attorney General that the Attorney General was not in a safe area and should move further from the crowd. The USPP operations commander said the Attorney General asked him, “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS [President of the United States] comes out?” The USPP operations commander told us he had not known until then that the President would be coming out of the White House and into Lafayette Park. He said he replied to the Attorney General, “Are you freaking kidding me?” and then hung his head and walked away. The Attorney General then left Lafayette Park. The USPP operations commander denied that the Attorney General ordered him to clear Lafayette Park and H Street.

Barr wouldn’t have had to order him explicitly, would he? The order was implied. And then, according to a report published last June by the New York Times,

At 6:17 p.m., a large phalanx of officers wearing Secret Service uniforms began advancing on protesters, climbing or jumping over barriers at the edge of the square at H Street and Madison Place. Officials said later that the police warned protesters to disperse three times, but if they did, reporters on the scene as well as many demonstrators did not hear it.

So it’s just a concidence that Bill Barr dropped by at 6:10 to let the Park Police know the POTUS is coming, and at 6:17 officers in Secret Service uniforms advanced on the protesters to clear them out? Are you freaking kidding me?

Meanwhile, the 6:15 announcement was delayed until 6:43 to give the clearing-out time to work.

What I’m seeing here is that Trump and his minions expected the park to be cleared by that evening, and when the Trumpers found out it wasn’t cleared, Bill Barr trotted over to drop a hint they’d better hurry up.

More from the New York Times, June 2:

Some form of chemical agent was fired at protesters, flash bang grenades went off and mounted police moved toward the crowds. “People were dropping to the ground” at the sound of bangs and pops that sounded like gunfire, Ms. Gerbasi said. “We started seeing and smelling tear gas, and people were running at us.”

By 6:30 p.m., she said, “Suddenly the police were on the patio of St. John’s Church in a line, literally pushing and shoving people off of the patio.” …

… At 6:43 p.m., Mr. Trump made his statement in the Rose Garden, finishing seven minutes later, and then headed back through the White House to emerge on the north side and walk out the gates and into the park.

Now, seriously, they want us to believe that it just miraculously happened that the park was cleared minutes before Trump set foot on it? Note also that National Guard troops were observed arriving in the area earlier that day, which makes me suspect the White House had anticipated the park problem would have been taken care of before that evening.

If the argument is that the Park Service had already planned to clear the park and put a fence around it before anyone thought of the Bible Stunt, so they weren’t cleared out just because of the Bible Stunt, okay. But it’s obvious that the way the clearing-out was handled, and the timing of it, was very much about the Bible Stunt.

See also Philip Bump at WaPo, who has videos:

Five minutes after Barr and the commander spoke, uniformed Secret Service officers briefly began pushing the crowd back. At 6:28 p.m., after several audio warnings to the crowd to disperse, Park Police began clearing the area from east to west; that is, starting from the side nearest the church where Trump would later appear for his photographs. At 6:43 p.m., nearly half an hour after scheduled, Trump begins speaking, even as the area is still being cleared.

Bump notes that the report is a very limited one that deals only with the actions of the U.S. Park Police.

We don’t know Barr’s side of the story because the inspector general’s report focused only on the conduct of the U.S. Park Police (USPP), the organization that falls within the Interior Department’s mandate. Many other agencies were on the scene that day, including Bureau of Prisons officers — airdropped in by the Justice Department in response to the ongoing protests — and the Secret Service. Most of the officers there were under Park Police direction (except the Secret Service) but the inspector general only “sought interviews and information from individuals outside of the USPP when doing so would provide us with information about the agency’s USPP’s activities. Accordingly, we did not seek to interview Attorney General William Barr, White House personnel, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officers, [D.C. Metropolitan Police (MPD)] personnel, or Secret Service personnel regarding their independent decisions that did not involve the USPP.”

It’s obvious that the White House expected the park to have been cleared. Note also that there was a 7 pm curfew, put in place by Mayor Muriel Bowser, and it might have been reasonable to wait until 7 pm to begin moving people out. The protesters probably expected that. When the push began earlier, there was chaos.

The report also documents (beginning on p. 13, or PDF p. 16) that  chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS) gas was used on protesters by Metro Police, which caught the USPP personnel off guard because that gas wasn’t authorized and the USPP were unmasked. This operations was utterly uncoordinated, it appears. And of course the feds denied for months that chemical irritants were used at all.

So pretty much everything we said about the Bible Stunt last summer is confirmed by this report, but the headlines say just the opposite. Typical.

WTF, Merrick Garland? Seriously?

I was pleased when Merrick Garland was nominated to be Attorney General. I was pleased when his nomination was confirmed. I am not pleased now.

First, about a month ago U.S. District for the District of Columbia Judge Amy Berman Jackson called for a memo written by former AG Bill Barr to be made public. We can infer from the judge’s remarks that the memo revealed something shady about how Barr decided to clear Trump on obstruction of justice charges. Yes, show us that memo! But Merrick Garland appealed that decision and chose to release only a small part of the memo, most of it redacted.

Well, that was odd. Then things got worse.

You’ll remember that E. Jean Carroll, a jounralist and advice columnist, accused Trump of raping her back in the 1990s. Trump called her a liar. Carroll sued for defamation. So far, pretty run of the mill Trump stuff.

Then Bill Barr’s Justice Department argued that Trump is immune from Carroll’s lawsuit because his denial of her allegations — basically, calling her a liar and saying she was “not my type” —  were made “within the scope of his office or employment” as president of the United States. It was official presidential business, in other words. Further, the Department of Justice itself was preparing to defend Trump in court as if it was Trump’s personal law firm.

This is obvious hooey on steroids. Yet AG Garland is going to continue this farce and defend Trump’s comments as official presidential business.

Garland was asked about this in a Senate hearing this afternoon. Here is what he said:

“Look the job of the Justice Department in making decisions of law is not is not to back any administration, previous or present …  And the essence of the rule of law is what I said when I accepted the nomination for attorney general, it is that like cases be treated alike, that there not the one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes,” Garland said in response to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont.

That’s not an answer. Maybe he’s trying to avoid an appearance that the Department of Justice is politicized. But hooey is hooey.

Well, today the Justice Department also declared it would defend — no, “vigorously” defend — religious exemptions for Christian schools that receive government money and discriminate against LGBTQ students. Garland thinks they should be able to discriminae and keep the money, in other words.

I can’t even. Maybe we should be grateful Garland didn’t make it to the Supreme Court.

About Time for the Pitchforks

Ezra Klein:

This is a moment when an implicit but ugly fact of our economy has been thrown into unusual relief: Our economy relies on poverty — or at least the threat of it — to force people to take bad jobs at low wages. This gets couched in paeans to the virtues of work, but the truth is more instrumental. The country likes cheap goods and plentiful services, and it can’t get them without a lot of people taking jobs that higher-income Americans would never, ever consider. When we begin to see glimmers of worker power in the economy, a lot of powerful people freak out, all at once.

In the United States, whether you earn a comfortable living or struggle to keep a roof over your head depends less on how hard you work but on what work you do. This doesn’t necessarily track with training and education. Even if your job requies specific training or a college degree, it might very well fall into the low-paying end. Social workers, teachers, and journalists come to mind.

All the years I was in publishing I couldn’t help but notice that people in sales and marketing got the big salaries and spacious offices, while most of the editors and editorial production people were paid either less or a lot less and worked out of cubbyholes with never enough space for all the manuscripts and proofs. It was explained to me that sales and marketing people “bring in dollars” while editorial and production do not; we were just cost.

The really low-paying jobs are in the service and food industries. These include health aides and day care workers.  These include the people who grow, process, distribute, and prepare our food. This is work that has to be done. For years whenever people talk about income inequality, somebody starts chirping about how people who want more money should get better training. But that’s not really the answer. Work that needs to be done should pay enough so that someone doing it full time can earn a living. And by “earning a living” I mean that individuals working full time at those jobs should not have to depend on food stamps and Medicaid.

If employers don’t want to provide health benefits for their low-income employees, they should start supporting Medicare for All or some other universal taxpayer-funded program, instead of whining about their costs going up.

I call your attention to an article from the June 2013 Harper’s, Education Is Not the Answer by Jeff Madrick. In spite of the time lapse it still seems pretty current. Among other things, he points out that during the recovery from the 2008 financial sector crash the typical American household saw its income fall every year. Further, “The percentage of American adults with college degrees, meanwhile, is greater than ever, having grown in the past decade from 26 to 30 percent. Every year our country is better educated, while wages remain stagnant or fall.” And with more college graduates in the job market, employers began hiring them to do work a high-school grad used to do. At the same pay.

I liked this part also: “The labor economists David Card and John DiNardo have shown that in the postwar period inequality rose fastest between 1980 and 1986, before rapid advances in computer technology began to affect the job market.” Um, gee, what else happened between 1980 and 1986? Reaganomics, anyone?

Fast forward to July 2020, and A college degree is not the solution to U.S. wage inequality by Kathryn Zickuhr at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Zickuhr addresses some of the same themes as Madrick in 2013 and disagrees with the prevailing notion that income inequality is caused by a “skills gap.”

Yet this focus on individual workers misses the structural conditions that constrain workers’ options and ability to share in economic growth. This issue brief examines recent data-driven research that demonstrates the skills gap is only a small and relatively unimportant explanation for the college wage premium because it fails to account for declining worker power and the role of monopsony in the labor market. These more important explanations for the college wage premium—and its recent decline—underscore why policymakers need to improve the underlying labor market conditions for all workers, instead of shifting responsibility to those already struggling in an uneven playing field.

Now, as the economy re-opens, employers are finding it harder to hire people. Republicans naturally fell back on the old strategy of forcing people to take whatever work they can get or face homelessness, and Republican governors yanked enhanced employment benefits prematurely. I understand some Senate Republicans are trying to stop the enhanced benefits for the whole country. There is all kinds of data showing that the extra $300 a week really isn’t the reason people aren’t jumping to take back their old minimum wages jobs — see, for example, The real reason employers can’t hire enough workers by Jill Filipovic at CNN — but you can’t tell a conservative that. The peasants must be punished to make them work, they say. In so many words.

The labor shortage is starting to affect the stock market, which may be the real reason so many Republican politicians are concerned about it.

Some employers find themselves doing the unthinkable and offering higher wages. But if it’s too soon to tell if this is the beginning of a trend or just a temporary blip.

Today in the New York Times we see From Appetizers to Tuition, Incentives to Job Seekers Grow by Nelson D. Schwartz. A lot of companies are adding education benefits like tuition reimbursement to their benefits packages. “As generous as the incentives may seem, they can be cheaper than across-the-board pay raises,” the article says. Of course.

We know the rich have been getting richer at a fantastic pace these past few years. The U.S. tax code is all about taxing income from labor over good ol’ wealth, which hasn’t helped our inequality issues much. See also The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax at ProPublica.

This may help. Over the weekend the G7 nations agreed to a minimum 15 percent tax rate on the profits of foreign subsidiaries of multinational corporations. Paul Krugman explains why this is a big deal.

But if any good comes out of this terrible time, maybe it will be that the peasants finally learn they can push back. Let’s hope.

Everybody Hates Joe Manchin

Joe, how much do we hate thee? Let me count the ways. And provide some links.

Manchin wrote an op ed headlined “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act.” Some reactions to this op ed and Manchin’s stated policy of putting “bipartisanship” ahead of everything else follows.

Eugene Robinson, Joe Manchin retreats to fantasyland and sticks America with the consequences. 

“Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has the right to live in a make-believe wonderland if he so chooses. But his party and his nation will pay a terrible price for his hallucinations about the nature of today’s Republican Party. And even this sacrifice might not guarantee that Manchin can hold onto support back home.

“Manchin’s declaration Sunday that he will vote against sweeping legislation to guarantee voting rights nationwide and that he “will not vote to weaken or eliminate” the Senate filibuster is a huge blow to President Biden’s hopes of enacting his ambitious agenda. There’s no way to spin this as anything other than awful.”

On the plus side, Robinson cites some polls that show Manchin’s voter base in West Virginia isn’t pleased with him, either.

Jonathan Chait, Joe Manchin’s Incoherent Case for Letting Republicans Destroy Democracy. In brief, Manchin’s op ed makes absolutely no sense.

James Downie, Joe Manchin’s mighty delusions.

“Manchin has become the Senate’s Walter Mitty: a man who believes himself the champion of a fantasy and who has hope but no plan. He believes he will save the country by recruiting “10 good Republicans,” even though dreaming doesn’t will into existence that many Republicans who will cast a fair-minded vote. Anything that would snap him back to our partisan reality he either ignores or treats as divisive. Meanwhile, McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party laugh all the way to the ballot box.

“That’s what makes Manchin so infuriating. In his mind, he’s the hero of this story. In truth, he’s the patsy. And the country pays the price for his delusions.”

Jennifer Rubin, Time to call Manchin’s bluff

“It’s time for Manchin to put up or share blame for Republicans’ subversion of democracy. Let him come up with 10 Republicans for H.R. 4 and for a slimmed down H.R. 1. Let him find four more Republicans to support the Jan. 6 commission. If he cannot, then his thesis that the filibuster promotes debate and makes way for compromise collapses and his role in promoting the tyranny of the minority is laid bare.”

Alexandra Petri, Joe Manchin and the Ten Good Republicans Joe sees them everywhere! But nobody else does. And the photos are blurry.

Charles Pierce, Joe Manchin’s Argument Is as Far Removed From Reality as West Virginia Is From Neptune.

“The Reverend William Barber, official preacher man here in the shebeen, has announced that, on June 15, he plans to lead his Poor People’s Campaign in a march on Senators Joe Manchin and Mitch McConnell. By now, Manchin’s appalling decision not only to continue to embrace the filibuster—the primary barrier to any attempt by Congress to counter the national campaign by the Republican Party to destroy the franchise for millions of American citizens—but also to vote against the For The People Act even if it ever came to a vote, has been chewed up and spat out by practically everyone who’s read his misbegotten op-ed in a West Virginia newspaper. …

“… It is more than possible that Joe Manchin simply has got his, and the hell with the rest of us. His support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a less sweeping bill, is primarily camouflage, since I can’t see enough Republican senators supporting that to get it passed, either. His op-ed is so threadbare that it’s compelling evidence that he’s not even really trying anymore. He cannot be so myopic and detached not to be aware of the political reality. Just last week, he pronounced himself baffled by the Republican refusal to authorize an independent investigation into the events of January 6. He’s just a babe in these woods.”

Greg Sargent, How Joe Manchin’s awful new stance could blow up in his face.

Blowing up in his face sounds good to me. How would that work?

“In his CBS appearance, Manchin hailed the handful of “brave Republicans” in the Senate who voted for the failed Jan. 6 commission, and said this suggests Democrats can still get 10 Republicans to vote for the John Lewis bill….

“… once it becomes clear that 10 Republicans will not support any voting protections, Manchin will have to say whether he believes Democrats cannot act alone to secure them when the alternative, by his own lights, will be disastrous.

“At that point, Manchin may dodge and obfuscate, to be sure. But, if he does continue holding out, that will inevitably be his position. And it’s untenable.”

That’s it? So we’re just screwed.

Here’s Your Failed Experiment, Your Honor

Here’s a bit of random background. There is a lot of background to choose from, but I just learned this bit today, so it’s on my mind.

In 2019, Megan Montgomery was rushed to a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, with a gunshot wound in her arm. The shooter was her husband, Jason McIntosh, a local police officer. NBC reports what happened next.

Police took her husband’s pistol away. Nine months later, the state’s top law enforcement agency gave it back, despite pending domestic violence charges and an active protective order. Just 16 days after that, he used the gun to shoot and kill her during another late-night dispute.

Of course he did. Even McIntosh’s lawyer thinks the state was nuts to give him his gun back. In the United States, a woman is killed by an intimate partner every nine hours, the NBC article says. And in spite of laws calling for domestic abusers to lose their access to firearms, these laws are rarely enforced. Why?

Experts say the reason is a combination of deference to gun rights on the part of judges and other officials, the absence of a defined procedure to remove the guns, and a lack of awareness by law enforcement about just how lethal the risk can be.

And, anyway, it’s just women, right? Gun rights are more important.

Megan Montgomery and Jason McIntosh in 2019.

Now, with that in mind, let us turn to California, where a U.S. District Judge named Roger Benitez has overturned the state’s 32-year-old assault weapons ban. Benitez called the ban a “failed experiment” and also compared the infamous AR-15 rifle to a Swiss army knife — “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

Daniel Polti, at Slate:

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez said that the way California has described the military-style rifles that are illegal to own means law-abiding citizens of the state can’t have weapons that most other states allow. The restrictions on the use of the weapons are “hereby declared unconstitutional and shall be enjoined,” Benitez wrote.  …

… Benitez also criticized the news media, saying that it’s their fault assault weapons have a bad reputation. “One is to be forgiven if one is persuaded by news media and others that the nation is awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles. The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole, and facts matter,” he wrote. “In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle.”

I do not have data on precisely how murders are committed in California, but in the U.S. as a whole the overwhelming majority of homicides are committed by firearms. “Knives or cutting instruments” are a very distant second. Of course, maybe he’s saying that if Californians could get their hands on more AR-15s, maybe the state’s homicide rate (currently 4.5 per 100,000 residents) could be bumped up to rival Mississippi’s (15.4 per 100,000 residents)!

If you’re wondering, Benitez is a George W. Bush appointee, and he has a history of pro-gun rulings. In a November 2020 news item in the San Diego Union-Tribune, reporter Greg Moran wrote that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra formally objected to a gun law case being assigned to Benitez.

Benitez has issued rulings striking down the laws banning high capacity ammunition magazines and requiring background checks for people buying ammunition in the past two years. He is also now hearing two other cases from Second Amendment advocates, one dealing with the state’s assault weapons regulatory scheme and another on the ban on billy clubs and blackjacks.

I take it AG Becerra couldn’t get the case reassigned.

Although Benitez overturned the assault weapon law, he granted a 30-day stay of the ruling to allow an appeal. And it will be appealed, and I suspect there’s a good chance the law will be reinstated. But let’s go back to Benitez and failed experiments.

Charles Tiefer writes in Forbes, Judge Strikes Down California’s Assault Weapon Ban As Part Of His Crusade Facilitating Mass Killings:

In his 94-page ruling Judge Benitez clearly aims to get the case to the Supreme Court, with its three new Trump-appointed justices, and bring about what he crusades for, a radical doctrine that the Second Amendment extends to weapons of mass killings of helpless, hopeless victims.

After noting Benitez’s pro-weapon history, Tiefer continues,

Benitez was picked although the American Bar Association clearing committee had more than 10 of 15 members giving Benitez an unqualified rating. The ABA said: “Judge Benitez is ‘arrogant, pompous, condescending, impatient, short-tempered, rude, insulting, bullying, unnecessarily mean, and altogether lacking in people skills.’”

Judge Benitez apparently thinks the assault weapons ban is a failed experiment. I have not been an unadulterated fan of assault weapons bans, mostly because “assault weapon” is not really a tightly defined technical term, and a lot of firearms with capabilities very similar to the dreaded AR-15 are not considered “assault weapons.” It’s also the case that one state’s firearm regulations are too easily undermined by laxer laws in other states. But Tiefer provides data arguing that the ban reduced the stockpile of privately owned rifles in California by more than 175,000. Which is better than nothing.

But if you want to talk about failed experiments, let’s look at the experiment we’ve been running in the U.S. This is the experiment to find out what happens when you let any damnfool own and carry guns, including high-velocity semiautomatic rifles like AR-15s. In recent years Republican states have been tripping all over themselves to eliminate even the most modest speed bumps to gun owenership. Licensing and permits are for socialists, you know. All this arm-bearing is supposed to reduce crime, enable public safety, and foster good manners. “An armed society is a polite society,” the Second Amendment advocates like to say.

So how is that working out? The murder rate in the U.S. jumped by 21 percent in 2020, it says here. No doubt a lot of violence was fueled by stress caused by the pandemic, and politics, and social upheavals, but if Americans didn’t own so damn many guns the violence might be a lot less lethal.

See also As Shootings Continue to Surge in 2021, Americans Set to Face a Summer Plagued by Gun Violence in Time; Mass shootings turn America’s gun culture into a killing culture in USA Today; There Have Been, On Average, 10 Mass Shootings In The U.S. Each Week This Year at NPR. Yeah, clearly, that “good guy with a gun” thing is workin’ real well. And are we more polite yet?

Life in the United States — Texas mom accidentally shoots her own child while firing gunshots at roaming puppy.

The woman, 24-year-old Angelia Mia Vargas, was charged with deadly conduct with a firearm after opening fire three times on the 6-month-old boxer puppy but instead wounding her son in the abdomen, reported KTRK-TV.

The puppy had been accidentally left out of the house and was roaming the street; his owner was present and trying to call the pup back to his house.  But Ms. Vargas had a gun handy, so a shooting occurred. The boy and puppy will both recover. Vargas was charged with deadly conduct with a firearm.

Texas lawmakers recently passed a bill to allow open carry of firearms without a permit or required training, which Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign into law.

And the carnage will continue. This experiment is not going well. Maybe we should call it off.

Bye-Bye Bibi? The Latest from Israel

Understanding what’s going on with Netanyahu requires a knowledge of Israel’s parliamentary procedures I do not possess. But Juan Cole says that last night Netanyahu missed a deadline for forming a new government. And that means the coalition trying to get him out gets a shot at forming a new government. I wish them luck.

The end of Netanyahu is not a sure thing. The opposition coalition claims to have exactly the number of votes, and no more, to take a new majority and establish a new prime minister. Netanyahu is working to get just one of those votes to switch to his side. So it’s not over.

This just in — The Times of Israel reports,

The eight-party coalition that aims to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is appearing increasingly likely to secure the necessary majority support in the Knesset, Israel’s two main news stations reported Friday night.

The assessment among all members of the “change bloc,” led by Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, is that the coalition will indeed be sworn in, Channel 12 said, with a wafer-thin 61-59 majority.

Getting rid of Netanyahu won’t mean getting rid of right-wing pro-settlement leadership, as some of the anti-Netanyahu coalition are hard righties, including the guy likely to be the next PM. But it won’t be Netanyahu.

See also Jennifer Rubin, This is what putting country over party looks like.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint statement after their meeting at the Prime Minister’s office, Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Jerusalem, Israel. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

Welcome to Crazy World

There are multiple reports today that Trump sincerely believes he will be “reinstated” as POTUS in August.

Charles Cooke of National Review — not one of my usual sources — corroborates what Maggie Haberman says.

I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be “reinstated” to office this summer after “audits” of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed. I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.

Cooke continues,

The scale of Trump’s delusion is quite startling. This is not merely an eccentric interpretation of the facts or an interesting foible, nor is it an irrelevant example of anguished post-presidency chatter. It is a rejection of reality, a rejection of law, and, ultimately, a rejection of the entire system of American government.

This is startling? His entire administration was a rejection of the entire system of American government. He never appeared to understand what the entire system of American government is, never mind his particular role in it.

Chis Cillizza at CNN writes that Trump has gotten worse. I don’t see worse. His head was never screwed on all the way. IMO he’s more stupid than crazy, but of course I’m not a psychologist. It’s true he’s not well connected to reality, but I think that’s because reality doesn’t interest him. He sees no profit or pleasure in reality. Bullshit, on the other hand, is gold.

Paul Campos:

Trump is reportedly more obsessed than ever with the idea that the election was stolen from him. Asking whether he really believes that is a category mistake: Donald Trump doesn’t have “beliefs” about those sorts of things in anything like the normal sense of the word. He just says whatever he wants to say with literally no regard for truth, evidence, plausibility, or anything else. As many people have pointed out he’s not so much a liar as a bullshitter in Harry Frankfurt’s classic formulation (TL;DR version: a liar has to care about the truth in order to lie about it; a bullshitter is not even interested in the truth to the limited logically necessary sense that a liar must be).

Maggie Haberman’s tweet was in reponse to something about QAnon and Myanmar, or “MIN-a-mar” as one Trump cultie pronounced it. Apparently the Q-culties have had a thing about Myanmar for a while. See How Q And Trump Deadenders Became Obsessed With Myanmar by Josh Kovensky at TPM. The culties sincerely believe that Trump gave orders to the military before he left office to stage a coup, and this will happen sometime this summer.

I believe I’ve mentioned recently that Myanmar is seriously bleeped up. Nobody wants to be like Myanmar, including Myanmar.

Also — If you missed the Chris Hayes segment on Rand Paul’s obsession with quails on cocaine, here it is. It’s a hoot.

Oh, Leave Ellie Kemper Alone

The 2012 Veiled Prophet “maids” and their fathers, Ladue News photo.

I am setting aside our impending implosion into darkness and tyranny to write about a stupid controversy involving an actress I’m not sure I ever heard of who starred in television shows I don’t remember watching. This also involves a bit of St. Louis cultural bric-à-brac that I hadn’t thought about in years. But I take it parts of the Internet are blowing up over this. I feel a need to clarify some stuff.

The actress, Ellie Kemper, was the 1999 Fair St. Louis Queen of Love and Beauty, a fact that shouldn’t be of any real importance to anybody but maybe the Kemper family. Fair St. Louis is an annual event hosted by the Veiled Prophet Organization, which hereafter I will call the VPO.

The VPO, which was once known as the  Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophet of the Enchanted Realm, is a profoundly weird cultural thing run by moneyed St. Louis families. The VPO was established in 1878, which is about the only fact regarding its establishment everyone agrees on. The primary stated purpose of the original VPO was old-fashioned civic boosterism. It was modeled after the New Orleans Mardi Gras; the “Mystic Order” was and is something like a Mardi Gras “krewe,” a social organization that puts on a parade or ball at Mardi Gras time, except in St. Louis there was and is only one krewe and you had to have yacht-fulls of money to buy your way into it. Unlike Mardi Gras, the VPO was never associated with any observance of the church year, I don’t believe. Over the years the dates for the VP festivities — primarily a parade and a fancy debutante ball — have moved all over the calendar.

Preciding over all public VPO festivities is a character called the Veiled Prophet, who wears elaborate robes and a veil that conceals his identity. The Prophet is supposed to be from a mystical kingdom called Khorassan. All that’s known is that the guy behind the veil is one of the VPO members. There are rumors the honor goes to the guy who paid the most money for it that year, but I don’t know if that’s true.

A robed Veiled Prophet and a Queen of Love and Beauty at the debutante ball, undated photo.

Beneath the civic boosterism, there are hints that the original VPO had some less noble purposes. This Atlantic article — which, I warn you, is partly fact and partly bullshit — associates the founding of the VPO with anti-unionism. The organization was also largely about promoting the leadership and privilege of the city’s old, elite moneyed families, which obviously it was. However, the attempt in the article to tie the VPO to the KKK is going too far, and I will explain this in a bit.

The VPO was all white until 1979, when it finally agreed to accept Black members. The Black members still had to have yacht-fulls of money to qualify for membership, so there aren’t a lot of them, but there are a few. Kemper is being slammed for associating with an institution with a “racist past.” As there are few institutions in the U.S. that don’t have a racist past, not to mention a racist present, this seems a bit unfair. I am also seeing claims that the VPO excluded Jews, but I can’t find any corroboration for that. I believe there were Jewish members long before there were Black members, anyway.

Regarding the alleged tie to the KKK — the author of The Atlantic article, Scott Beauchamp, found an old image of one of the early costumes of the Veiled Prophet and noted that it resembled a Klan robe. However, according to several sources the Klan itself didn’t take to wearing their signature robes until some time after 1878. (See, for example, How the Klan Got Its Hood from The New Republic, January 2016.) Also, several sources say both the Veiled Prophet robes and Klan robes are modeled after what were common Mardi Gras costumes of the time, which in turn were modeled after old Catholic penitent robes still worn in Europe here and there. The photo above shows what the Prophet’s robe has looked like for a long time, or at least as long as I can remember, which is not very Klannish.

The VPO isn’t what it used to be, frankly. Back in the 1950s the Veiled Prophet Ball was on local television every year. I remember watching it on our little black and white teevee. In the St. Louis area it was a thing one always watched, like the Miss America pageant and the annual broadcast of Peter Pan with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. Anyway, what I remember about it is that the debutantes, or “maids,” wore these poufy princess ball gowns and tiaras with a single feather sticking up on top. And they carried enormous bouquets of flowers. As they were brought forward to be presented to the Veiled Prophet, they had to execute a deep bow that was almost a full prostration, all the while holding the bouquets with both hands, not letting their feathered headdresses fall off, and without tripping over the countless yards of fabric in those gowns. And I assume they were wearing heels.

I was always impressed. They had to have thighs of steel to pull that off.

And yes, the Veiled Prophet maids were all white in those days, but so were the Miss America contestants. However, the VP was more exclusive. Theoretically any pretty girl could be Miss America. But to be a VP maid, your family had to have yacht fulls of money, preferably old money. A little hillbilly girl from a blue collar family, like me, would never have had to execute that bowing maneuver no matter how white she was. For which I was somewhat grateful. It was terrifying just to watch.

In the late 1960s Black activists began to protest the ball and parade. In 1972 a few were able to crash the ball and un-veil the Prophet, who was a Monsanto executive that year. The VPO responded by, eventually, accepting Black members and establishing the Fair St. Louis, a public fair with lots of food and entertainment that anyone can attend. The Veiled Prophet Parade is now called America’s Birthday Parade, and participation is more democratic than it used to be.

The debutante ball is still a debutante ball. It hasn’t been televised for a long time, I don’t think, unless it’s on some funky cable channel I don’t know about.

So that’s the whole story with the Veiled Prophet of St. Louis. Yes, the organization has something of a hinky past, but it’s made some reforms. The current VPO gives a lot of money to charitable causes and is generally harmless, as far as I know.

According to Allegra Frank at Slate, in What It Means That Ellie Kemper Was Queen of the “Racist” Veiled Prophet Ball, on Monday May 31 someone tweeted something about the Veiled Prophet and how weird it is, and then someone else found that Ellie Kemper was once a Queen of Love and Beauty, and then people found the old Atlantic article with its KKK allegations, and before long Kemper was being roasted as the “KKK princess.” And now right-wing sites are screaming that a “liberal mob” is after Kemper and cancel culture and blah blah, but I don’t know of any connection between the Twitter users calling her the KKK princess and liberalism. Anyway, this is all very stupid, and people should just leave Ms. Kemper alone.

We Have to Fight for It

President Biden’s Memorial Day address was quite good, I thought. I just want to make note of this part:

What we do now — what we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure.  We all take it for granted.  We think we learned in school.  You have to — every generation has to fight for it.

But, look, it’s the biggest question: Whether a system that prizes the individual, that bends towards liberty, that gives everybody a chance at prosperity — whether that system can and will prevail against powerful forces that wish it harm.

All that we do in our common life as a nation is part of that struggle.  The struggle for democracy is taking place around the world — democracy and autocracy.  The struggle for decency and dignity — just simple decency.  The struggle for posterity — prosperity and progress.  And, yes, the struggle for the soul of America itself.

More than 100 scholars of political science and related disciplines released an open letter today calling out a serious threat to democracy.

Specifically, we have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election. Collectively, these initiatives are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections. Hence, our entire democracy is now at risk. …

… Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations should Democrats win more votes. They are seeking to restrict access to the ballot, the most basic principle underlying the right of all adult American citizens to participate in our democracy. They are also putting in place criminal sentences and fines meant to intimidate and scare away poll workers and nonpartisan administrators. State legislatures have advanced initiatives that curtail voting methods now preferred by Democratic-leaning constituencies, such as early voting and mail voting. Republican lawmakers have openly talked about ensuring the “purity” and “quality” of the vote, echoing arguments widely used across the Jim Crow South as reasons for restricting the Black vote.

You may have heard about the Texas Democrats who stopped passage of partricularly heinous voter suppression bill by walking out of the Texas House and denying the Republicans a quorum. Gov. Greg Abbott is threatening to withhold pay from lawmakers who walked out. There are plans for a special session to take up the bill again.

CNN reports that the Texas Democrats are calling for help from Washington.

Texas state Democratic lawmakers are calling for federal action after they derailed a restrictive voting bill, and President Joe Biden is sending a grim warning about Republican-led state efforts to restrict voting access.

Greg Sargent wrote today,

With yet another GOP effort to restrict voting underway in Texas, President Biden is now calling on Congress to act in the face of the Republican “assault on democracy.” Importantly, Biden cast that attack as aimed at “Black and Brown Americans,” meriting federal legislation in response.

That is a welcome escalation. But it remains unclear whether 50 Senate Democrats will ever prove willing to reform or end the filibuster, and more to the point, whether Biden will put real muscle behind that cause. If not, such protections will never, ever pass. …

… Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is the most visible obstacle here. But an unknown number of other moderate Democrats are also reluctant to cross that Rubicon, and it’s unclear how much effort Biden will put into making that happen.

Oh, yeah. Joe Manchin. And Kysten Cinema. And maybe some others. I am not seeing any obvious leverage that could be applied to force these deadbeats out of their complacency.

Much depends on how much President Biden, and key senators, still buy into the myth that the public wants bipartisanship more than they want to see shit get done, and “reaching across the aisle” will be rewarded by voters. I’d like to think they know better, but I can’t say they do.

So, what can we do? Is it time to take to the streets, again?