Stop Trump Before He Tariffs Again

Trump and his tariffs are like a kid with a new toy. Except that it matters that Trump has no idea how tariffs actually work. He apparently believes that imposing a 5 percent tariff on goods from Mexico will punish Mexico, with no consequencess to U.S. business and consumers. And it appears his own advisers have been unable to explain to him that’s not how it works. See “DISASTROUS”: DOW SINKS AS MARKETS REALIZE TRUMP REALLY IS THIS STUPID at Vanity Fair.

My question is, why isn’t anyone taking real action to stop him? He isn’t supposed to have the power to impose tariffs, anyway, the Constitution says. He is assuming power a president doesn’t constitutionally have by taking advantage of an “emergency powers” law. From CNN:

One key thing to know is that the emergency powers he is using evolved from the need for the President to act with decisive authority during war, specifically World War I. The Great Depression prompted the expansion of emergency powers to include economic emergencies, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service. (This piece uses many facts from that analysis, which is worth reading.)

These powers were used throughout the Cold War until the 1970s, when, according to CRS, Congress basically realized the US had been in a state of emergency for 40 years and put new restrictions on the President, including requirements to track the cost of any emergency and justify it each year.

The law by which Trump can impose sanctions like the tariffs, passed in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam, is the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This authority has actually been used quite frequently; there have been 54 national emergencies, 29 of which are ongoing. …

The law has never, before now, been used to impose tariffs, according to CRS. And Mexico is a neighbor and ally, from which we bought $345 billion in stuff last year because we are joined together in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

I understand that people did try to explain to Trump that the new tariff could screw up his NAFTA 2.0 deal. Some business groups are considering a lawsuit.

They’ll [the tariffs] affect the supply chain for the US auto industry, machinery, medical instruments, not to mention the avocados and tomatoes in American salads, fruit, vegetables. All of it.

And it’s a two-way street. Americans sold just shy of $300 billion in goods to Mexico in 2018 — cars, machinery, pork and beef. Billions and billions dollars worth of many different type of goods that might be subject to retaliatory tariffs from Mexico.

As Bess Levin wrote,

Tariffs, of course, are usually used to counter trade violations as opposed to being a blunt instrument to deal with border security, but reason and logic have no place in this administration. If they did, someone would have likely been able to get it through Trump’s head that this move will badly damage the U.S. interests, a point that has thus far eluded him.

 

Congress could shut down Tariff Man by tomorrow, seems to me, One assumes the Senate doesn’t act because of the Republican majority, but what about the House? What about the several hundred Democratic presidential candidates? I see Julián Castro has spoken out; not sure about anyone else. Why aren’t there many very loud voices saying that Trump is using a power he’s not supposed to have, and it’s hurting people?

Meuller Lite

I woke up to headlines about how Robert Mueller was about to make some big, substantive statement. Then the next headlines were just about how he was closing the special counsel’s office and leaving the Justice Department. I thought he had already done those things, but whatever.

He actually said a little more, but not a lot more. He won’t comment further on Russian interference allegations because there are pending indictments. Once again, he said there was insufficient evidence to prove conspiracy. Then he said,

When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation, or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Indeed.

And in a second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president. The order appointing the special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. And we conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised of the progress of our work. And as set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.

Again, not news.

The introduction to the volume two of our report explains that decision. It explains that under long-standing department policy a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.

Actually, a whole lot of constitutional scholars say otherwise. But let’s go on.

The department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report and I will describe two of them for you. First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president, because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now.

And?

And second, the opinion says that the constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrong doing.

And that would be Congress, I believe.

Now I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been discussion about an appearance before congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.

You’ve probably heard that the House Judiciary Committee has been asking Mueller to testify publicly, and he has said he would only testify privately. Mueller has also been saying he would not testify to anything beyond what is already in the report. Just now Chairman Jerrold Nadler said that Mueller has “clearly demonstrated that President Trump is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings.”

“Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that President Trump is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel’s report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion,” he [Nadler] said.

If I were Jerry Nadler, as soon as Mueller is no longer a Justice Department employee I would serve Mueller with a big, fat subpoena requiring him to appear publicly before the Judicial Committee to reaffirm that Trump was not exonerated of obstruction, and that Trump might still face indictments when he leaves office or impeachment even sooner.

Jerry Nadler, waiting for Bob Mueller to stop being such a bleeping hothouse violet and testify publicly, already.

Another Episode of Why We’re Screwed

Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz is not a fan of neoliberalism.

Three years ago, President Donald Trump’s election and the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum confirmed what those of us who have long studied income statistics already knew: in most advanced countries, the market economy has been failing large swaths of society.

Nowhere is this truer than in the United States. Long regarded as a poster child for the promise of free-market individualism, America today has higher inequality and less upward social mobility than most other developed countries.

After rising for a century, average life expectancy in the U.S. is now declining. And for those in the bottom 90% of the income distribution, real (inflation-adjusted) wages have stagnated: the income of a typical male worker today is around where it was 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, many European countries have sought to emulate America, and those that succeeded, particularly the U.K., are now suffering similar political and social consequences.

The recent European elections do not give me hope that Europeans are learning from our mistakes, although Josh Marshall argues it’s not as bad as it looks. But let’s go on …

Urban Americans who have profited from globalism are still oblivious to what Reaganomics and its cousin, neoliberaism, have done to large parts of the country. Indeed, I still run into people who insist neoliberalism isn’t even a real thing. They should hang out with me for a while.

The New York Times has one of those “reports from Trump’s America” articles focusing on one laid-off auto plant worker adjusting to life without a job. I found the article compelling, because I know this guy. Not the individual in the article, but his many counterparts. I went to high school with this guy. I run into him at family reunions and funerals. He comes around to mow the lawn and fix the plumbing.

The local variation of this guy is somewhat different in that he may never have had the union job his father had, since the union jobs moved out of here in the 1980s and not just last year. But he knows he doesn’t have the same range of opportunities that his father did. He’s able to maintain a middle-class standard of living by cobbling together more than one job, and his wife works, too, but they do without much of a benefit package. On paper, it may look as if he’s doing all right, but he worries about retirement. HIs dad had a pension and benefits; this guy doesn’t.

This guy blames NAFTA, and both parties, for the loss of union manufacturing jobs that have changed his economic reality. This guy voted for Donald Trump in 2016, big time, but he realizes now that Trump hasn’t actually done anything and probably won’t. He says he’s open to supporting any candidate, of any party, gender, or race, who can give him his old life back, or something similar.

And here’s the part where it’s important for Democrats to talk to this guy, and listen to this guy. In 2016 Clinton didn’t reach this guy, and Trump did, and that’s why he’s president and she isn’t.

Back to Stiglitz:

We can thank former President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for our current state of affairs. The neoliberal reforms of the 1980s were based on the idea that unfettered markets would bring shared prosperity through a mystical trickle-down process.

We were told that lowering tax rates on the rich, financialization, and globalization would result in higher standards of living for everybody. Instead, the U.S. growth rate fell to around two-thirds of its level in the post-war era — a period of tight financial regulations and a top marginal tax rate consistently above 70% — and a greater share of the wealth and income from this limited growth was funneled to the top 1%.

Instead of the promised prosperity, we got deindustrialization, polarization, and a shrinking middle class. Unless we change the script, these patterns will continue — or worsen.

This is a big deal, and it’s not going to be solved by tweaks to the existing system. The system needs a radical overhaul. And, frankly, I think a big chunk of white guy America is ready to consider a radical overhaul in ways they were not in 1972 or 1980 or 1993 or 2000, and Democrats who still insist on running to the center need to adjust. The center, even assuming there is one, ain’t gonna hold.

I don’t know who Umair Haque is, but he wrote an interesting essay

Now, at this point, sometimes, Americans interject?—?“our society’s not collapsing!” Sorry, yes it is. Longevity’s falling, incomes are shrinking, happiness is plummeting, suicides are skyrocketing. These mega trends aren’t true anywhere else in the world, apart from maybe North Korea. Then there are the other trends, the sociocultural ones, the weird and gruesome ones?—?school shootings, murder-suicide epidemics among the elderly, old people working at Walmart. I read the other day that 20% of American kids don’t drink water at least once a day. What the? You get the point. America is as close a thing to a collapsing society as a rich country has ever been in human history.

(And yet the truth is that nobody forced that fate on America. American collapse is a self-inflicted tragedy. The Soviets didn’t do it. A bullet didn’t need to be fired. It’s a thing made of capitalism, of supremacy, of patriarchy. Supremacy made Americans?—?enough of them?—?say: “I won’t pay for their schools and hospitals! Those dirty, filthy people are beneath me! Why, they used to be my grandparents’ slaves!” Capitalism made Americans believe that everything could be solved with greed, selfishness, markets, and corporations. And patriarchy made it impossible for anyone but pedigreed white dudes who repeated all the above, ad nauseam, the old refrains of “self-reliance” and “individual responsibility” and “free markets” and so on, to get any kind of attention or influence whatsoever.)

The fact?—?and you’re not going to like this?—?is that while the rest of the rich world, notably Europe, modernized, America never did. It never went anywhere?—?and so today, it’s going backwards, having reached the limits of its old paradigms and attitudes of capitalism, supremacy, and patriarchy.

So here we are, in the allegedly Richest Country in the World, and our infrastructure is crumbling from neglect, our maternal and infant mortality rates get worse and worse, school children go hungry if they don’t have lunch money, the water in many areas isn’t fit to drink, many cities have extreme housing shortages, people die because insulin is too expensive, etc. Our state legislatures can’t bring themselves to address these problems but trip all over themselves rushing to ban abortions and loosen restrictions on firearms. And the federal government is completely frozen because the party that controls the Senate functions only to protect the corrupt president. Brilliant.

Oh, and, in the meantime, our planet is dying.

I am paying no attention to polls until after we’ve had a couple of debates. And I am hoping — possibly foolishly — that major news media will have learned a lesson from 2016 and will bleeping report on the candidates, backgrounds and all, and not just cover politics as a horse race.

And I suspect this guy will listen to a candidate who says that we can’t force GM to re-open its auto plant, but we are hiring crews to fix infrastructure, and we pay good wages and benefits. And we’ll see to it your daughter with cerebral palsy can get the health care and services she needs. We can tax rich people to pay for it.

Why is that so hard?

Trump’s Wrecking Crew Goes After Press Freedom

In dot connecting mode — This week Julian Assange was indicted on violating 17 counts of the Espionage Act for his role in publishing classified State Department and other files sent to him by Chelsea Manning. Whatever one might thing of Assange, this is worrisome because it touches on an important privilege of news media, which is the ability to publish classified informatioin received as a third party that the American people need to know.

Consider, for example, the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg leaked the top-secret study of how the U.S. had gotten itself into the Vietnam War to the New York Times in 1971, and the Times decided to publish it in segments. After the first segment came oout the Nixon Administration sought a court order barring the paper from publishing the rest of it.

According to Wikipedia,

Section 793 of the Espionage Act was cited by Attorney General John N. Mitchell as cause for the United States to bar further publication of stories based upon the Pentagon Papers. The statute was spread over three pages of the United States Code Annotated and the only part that appeared to apply to the Times was 793(e), which made it criminal for:

Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted, or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it [shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both]. [6]

A second lawsuit was brought against the Washington Post after that paper began publishing portions of the Pentagon Papers also. The Supreme Court heard both cases and decided the newspapers had a right under the First Amendment to publish the study. Very simply, the Court decided that the government did not prove that publication of the Pentagon Papers was actually detrimental to national security.

The precedent here, I believe, is that while a media outlet may not have absolute discretion to publish classified information that falls into its lap — if the information really is critical to national security, and if publishing it could bring harm to someone, that might still be a violation of the Espionage Act. But if the government is just sitting on something because it would be emarassing to elected officials, and this something falls into the hands of news media, its publication is protected speech.

But now the Trump Administration has swooped in to indict Julian Assange — rather ungrateful of it, I think — for publishing the information given him by Chelsea Manning. This all happened in 2010, and while the Obama Administration prosecuted Manning it chose not to bring charges against Assange.

But now the Trump Justice Department does want to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, saying that Assange is not a journalist. Well, he isn’t, but that shouldn’t matter.

Assange is being charged under the Espionage Act, a law passed during World War I to punish spies and traitors. But in recent years, the law increasingly has been used against government employees who leak classified information to the media. The Obama administration brought eight prosecutions for media leaks — more than all previous administrations combined — and the Trump administration has upped the ante, bringing seven prosecutions in the space of two years. Alarmingly, many of the defendants have been whistleblowers: They disclosed information indicating waste, fraud or abuse on the part of the government. National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake, for instance, was charged with disclosing information about an illegal N.S.A. surveillance program to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

Nonetheless, until now, the Justice Department distinguished between government employees who leak classified information (deemed prosecutable), and outlets that publish it (considered to have First Amendment protection). The Obama administration flirted with erasing that line: In court documents, it described a Fox News chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, as “an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in an Espionage Act case. (Rosen has since left Fox.) And the administration reportedly considered bringing charges against Assange. But ultimately, Obama’s Justice Department decided that prosecuting publishers of leaked information would be a bridge too far.

That was the right decision. Although the Espionage Act does not recognize a line between leaker and publisher, the First Amendment, as interpreted by the courts, does. The Supreme Court has long held that government employees may be required to relinquish some free-speech rights as a condition of their employment. Officials with access to classified information sign nondisclosure agreements in which they agree to be subject to criminal penalties for leaking. Publishers, obviously, sign no such waivers. While the Supreme Court has not directly addressed whether they can be prosecuted for publishing classified information (because no such prosecution has previously occurred), it has held that the government may not enjoin a newspaper from publishing information based solely on government claims of national security harms.

Now, why would the Trump Administration give a hoo haw about the documents published by Assange back in 2010? Here’s some speculation — are they doing this to send a warning to U.S. media outlets about publishing classified documents that might embarrass Donald Trump?

Consider that they pulled this trick just before Trump gave Attorney General/Trump consigliere William Barr carte blanche to comb through and declassify anything he wants to publish to make Trump look good. What would happen if the Washington Post received classfied files pointing to clear Trump corruptions? What would happen if someone slipped a thumb drive to a journalist containing the unredacted Mueller Report with all underlying evidence? And a media outlet chose to publish it?

Under the Pentagon Papers precedent, probably the media outlet that published those files would not face charges, assuming the documents didn’t compromise any ongoing intelligence operations. But the Trump Justice Department seems to be looking to change the precedent. Otherwise, why are they bothering with Assange?

There is also a Russian connection, naturally. Josh Marshall wrote yesterday,

This level of power basically gives Barr a whip hand over the entire Intelligence Community. And he seems to want to get his hands on the Russia desks especially. As the Times notes, “Mr. Barr wanted to know more about what foreign assets the C.I.A. had in Russia in 2016 and what those informants were telling the agency about how President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 election.” These are likely among the most closely held secrets the US government has. They will all but certainly be communicated directly to the President.

And from there to Trump’s good buddy Vladimir Putin?

Current and former intgelligence officials are horrified at Barr’s newfound privilege, saying that lives are on the line. It puts Barr in the position of weaponizing the Justice Department against the FBI and other intelligence agencies.

Jamil Smith writes for Rolling Stone,

I listened Thursday to President Trump, after a reporter reminded him that the treason of which he’d been accusing his many adversaries is an actual crime punishable by death, and he merely nodded. When asked who might suffer that penalty, he named the former head of the FBI, his ex-deputy, and “people probably higher than that.” There aren’t too many people higher than that.

Hours later, that dystopian rhetoric began transforming into authoritarian reality. Trump signed a directive allowing attorney general William Barr broad, unprecedented powers to conduct a review of the intelligence community’s investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign, ordering the CIA and the other 15 federal intelligence agencies to essentially to give Barr everything he needs. Whatever Barr wants declassified, he’ll declassify — which we can anticipate, given our experience with the Mueller report, to be a nightmare of misinformation tailored to the president’s narrative.

It is carte blanche for his attack dog to comb through a mountain of intelligence and craft a story to punish whomever Trump wants punished. Without any restraints, we can expect mockeries of justice unlike things we’ve seen since, well, trials of police officers for killing black people. It will almost certainly be disgraceful. Trump lackey Corey Lewandowski already was on the airwaves Friday alleging that former Vice President (and potential general election rival) Joe Biden was behind the Steele dossier and that Comey, McCabe and others would all be on trial by “March or April of the next year.”

I am honestly frightened for this country.

The Further Shredding of Everything the Founders Tried to Accomplish by Donald J. Trump

Trump has given William Barr, one of his principal toads, the power to declassify anything he wants. Allegedly, this is so Barr can investigate how the investigations that led to the Meuller investigation got started. Paul Waldman explains why this is a big deal.

Barr is not trying to learn more about whether there was something fishy about that investigation. He’s looking for information that can then be selectively declassified in order to help Trump and undermine his perceived enemies. If that involves compromising sensitive intelligence, he won’t hesitate for a moment.

We can be pretty sure of what’s going to happen. Barr will scour every record he can to learn as much as possible about the Russia investigation. Whenever he comes across something that can be spun to make the FBI or anyone Trump has decided is his enemy look bad, he’ll put it in the “Declassify” pile. Then he’ll release it all to the public and hold a news conference where he suggests that there was a conspiracy to take down Trump. The president will then take to Twitter to proclaim that he was indeed the victim of a vile witch hunt that has at last been exposed. The news media, in possession of only the materials Barr has chosen to give them, will struggle to avoid amplifying and reinforcing Barr’s claims.

In case you were wondering what happens when an infinitely corrupt president decides to use the powers of the federal government for his own self-interest with the help of lackeys he has installed to protect him, this is it. Now just wait until he tells Barr to go after the Democratic nominee for president.

Yep, that’s how it will go down. Kind of amazing the United States lasted as long as it did, consideringa circus clown is doiing such a bang up job destroying it.

Trump Throws Temper Tantrum; World Yawns

(Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP/Getty Images)

So this just happened:

President Trump abruptly ended a meeting with Democratic leaders on Wednesday, saying he was unable to work with them on legislation following comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that he was “engaged in a coverup.”

Trump made an unscheduled appearance in the Rose Garden shortly afterward and in a meandering 10-minute address said he had left the meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) at which they were supposed to talk about working together on a $2 billion infrastructure plan.

“Instead of walking in happily to a meeting, I walk in to look at people who said I was doing a coverup,” Trump said, adding that he can’t work on infrastructure “under these circumstances.”

Here was the scene for the completely unscheduled and spontaneoous appearance that he hadn’t at all planned on making this morning:

Very early this morning Trump was tweeting about witch hunts already. BTW, it’s not clear what the Mueller investigation cost, but there are estimates it could have paid for itself through collected settlesments, mostly from Paul Manafort.

Anyway — I’m sure nobody on the Democratic side had any illusions there was a real chance Trump would keep any commitment to a $2 billion infrastructure plan. So nothing was lost here.

Also, before the infrastructure meeting had broken up, Greg Sargent wrote,

Trump is set to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss their previous agreement-in-principle to a $2 trillion infrastructure package.

But Trump has now blown up these negotiations with a new broadside — a letter demanding that Democrats pass his renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, and insisting he will not consider infrastructure until that’s done.

“Before we get to infrastructure, it is my strong view that Congress should first pass the important and popular USMCA trade deal,” Trump wrote in the letter to Pelosi and Schumer, in a reference to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is NAFTA 2.0. After this is passed, Trump continued, “we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package.”

Sargent points out that on both NAFTA 2.0 and infrastructure, Trump needs the House Democrats a lot more than they need him. Democrats want an infrastructure package, but only if it is paid for through progressive taxation and not through some cockamamie tax incentive plan to corporations. But anything paid for by taxes is not going to get through the current Senate. Of NAFTA 2.0, Waldman says, “Many congressional Democrats won’t support it without changes strengthening its labor protections, and view its intellectual property protections as a giveaway to Big Pharma.”

Trump, on the other hand, needs to be able to brag about accomplishing a better trade deal and an infrastructure plan as he runs for re-election.  But now Trump says he can’t work on those things because those mean, nasty Democrats are investigating him.

“I walked into the room and I told Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi, ‘I want to do infrastructure’ … but we can’t do it under these circumstances,” Trump said at a last-minute Rose Garden event.

Trump’s anger appears to have been sparked by comments Pelosi made earlier in the day when she said, “We believe the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up” by blocking White House aides from giving testimony and responding to document requests from ongoing congressional investigations.

“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump insisted Wednesday.

Dude — you’re blocking testimony and ignoring subpoenas. That’s covering up on its face. And then he turned it around and claimed the Democrats can’t be serious about working on legislation while they are also investigating him, not realizing that most  people really can walk and chew gum at the same time. If he thinks he somehow has leverage over the Dems and can scare them into not investigating him, or something … what leverage? I’m not seeing any leverage. He’s the one who needs to be able to say he did something about infrastructure. He’s the one who needs NAFTA 2.0 to not go down in flames.

Martin Longman advises Dems to just go ahead and write their own bill and then campaign on it next  year.

I think the House should hold extensive hearings on the country’s infrastructure needs and how they can use a major bill to address climate change. They should pass the bill at the end of the year and then campaign on the issue when the Republican-controlled Senate inevitably lets the infrastructure issue die in Congress.

There are a lot of voters out there who will take the Democrats side in that debate.

Sounds like a plan.

How Democrats Need to Talk About Abortion

Jonathan Capehart praised Pete Buttigieg’s Fox News appearance (which I didn’t see), and in particular praised Buttigieg’s answer to an abortion question.

“Do you believe at any point in pregnancy,” Wallace asked, “whether it’s at six weeks or eight weeks or 24 weeks or whatever, that there should be any limit on a woman’s right to have an abortion?” The back-and-forth between Buttigieg and Wallace was instructive, especially the mayor’s initial response.

This part is a transcript of the Fox conversation:

Buttigieg: I think the dialogue has gotten so caught up on where you draw the line that we’ve gotten away from the fundamental question of who gets to draw the line, and I trust women to draw the line when it’s their own health.

Wallace: So just to be clear, you’re saying that you would be okay with a woman, well into the third trimester, deciding to abort her pregnancy.

Buttigieg: Look, these hypotheticals are usually set up in order to provoke a strong emotional—

Wallace: It’s not hypothetical, there are 6,000 women a year who get abortions in the third trimester.

Buttigieg: That’s right, representing less than 1 percent of cases. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation. If it’s that late in your pregnancy, then it’s almost by definition, you’ve been expecting to carry it to term. We’re talking about women who have perhaps chosen a name. Women who have purchased a crib, families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime, something about the health or the life of the mother that forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice. And the bottom line is, as horrible as that choice is, that woman, that family may seek spiritual guidance, they may seek medical guidance, but that decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.

I’ve seen worse answers, but I’m still not satisfied with that. Here is what (I would like to think) I would have said.

(Hypothetical conversation follows.)

Wallace: Do you believe at any point in pregnancy, whether it’s at six weeks or eight weeks or 24 weeks or whatever, that there should be any limit on a woman’s right to have an abortion?

Me: I support the Roe v. Wade guidelines that have been the law of the land for 46 years. That decision protects a right to abortion for any reason until the fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb, which medical science tells us is at about 23 weeks’ gestation, or late second trimester. The Roe decision said that states may restrict abortions after that point except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

So when people opposed to abortion create these fantasy scenarios in which women close to term waltz into an abortion clinic to end the pregnancy and destroy the fetus for no good reason, they are talking about something that already is illegal and isn’t happening in the real world. Let’s talk about what is happening in the real world.

Wallace: There are 6,000 women a year who get abortions in the third trimester.

Me: That’s right, representing less than 1 percent of cases. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation  (etc.; the rest of Buttigieg’s answer was okay).

(End hypothetical conversation.)

Why is it so hard to actually explain what the law is now? Why don’t people do that? Nobody, not even NARAL, is fighting for elective abortion in the third trimester. Why is it somehow forbidden to say that?

The most recent polling on Roe. v. Wade (from April 2019) says that 65 percent of adults nationwide support Roe v. Wade and don’t want it overturned, as opposed to 32 percent who want it overturned. That’s a healthy majority.  Stand with Roe v. Wade. Why do we allow ourselves to be put on defense?

See Paul Waldman, On abortion rights, time for Democrats to go on offense. See also Why I Don’t Give Money to NARAL.

The Democratic Message Deficit

The usually insightful Greg Sargent praised Pete Buttigieg’s Sunday night appearance on Fox News, possibly only see by people who don’t have HBO subscriptions. But Sargent had some criticism, too.

Buttigieg has been pilloried for going on Fox News in the first place, something Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has done but that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has refused to do. Buttigieg addressed the criticism by saying: “I get where that’s coming from,” and referencing the anti-immigrant rhetoric of some Fox News personalities. He added:

There is a reason why anybody has to think twice and swallow hard before participating in this media ecosystem. But I also believe . . . there are a lot of Americans who my party can’t blame for ignoring our message, because they will never hear it if we don’t go on.

Buttigieg insisted that this is another reason the candidates must spend more time “going into places where Democrats haven’t been seen much. We’ve got to find people where they are — not change our values, but update our vocabulary so that we’re truly connecting with Americans from coast to coast.”

No, that cannot be right, says Greg Sargent. How can it be that Democrats haven’t been reaching out to and speaking to all voters? “One can and should argue for speaking to all voters without adding the notion that other unnamed Democrats don’t actually try to do this,” Sargent says.

Let me deliver this sermon one more time.

No, people in large parts of the United States don’t hear Democratic Party messages very often, if at all. Democrats to show up and speak to these voters, but when they do they use carefully vague Republican Lite rhetoric. For decades they’ve avoided discussing hot-button issues like abortion. They also avoid discussing any new initiatives that might require raising taxes. When they run for office, most of their television ads are designed to reassure voters they really aren’t like those liberals.

I am living in a Missouri county that went more than 70 percent for Donald Trump in 2016. I grew up here; it’s a community that had a lot of union jobs 50 years ago, but no longer. The kind of boldly progressive ideas many of the current Dem presidential candidates are proposing haven’t been spoken out loud here since the 1960s. I am serious. Republican talking points are all anyone ever hears, and the few Democrats who do have a voice in the region — the recently deposed Claire McCaskill is a good example — tend to run for office on how pragmatic and centrist they are. 

The only specific issue I can remember that McCaskill emphasized in her many television ads was reducing presciption drug costs. She didn’t say how she was going to do that, except by “standing up to the pharmaceutical companies.” But  in a state where rural hospitals are shutting down faster than Sears, she did not address the wider issue of health care costs, I assume to avoid being put on the spot to defend Obamacare.

Gun control? Nope. Infrastructure? Nope. Abortion? Nope. Opioids? Nope. It’s true progressive ideas on this issues may not play well in rural areas, but in Kansas City, St. Louis, and more urban areas people are more receptive, and to win a statewide election here a Democrat has to run up a big margin in urban areas.

I know people in this area. It’s true a lot of them have been so saturated with Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, and little else, for so many years they are impervious to any other sort of message. But I also sincerely believe a lot of folks in these parts would be receptive to progressive, New Deal style ideas if they ever heard them. But they don’t. At least, they don’t hear about them from local news or from the states’ politicians of either party.

This is an example of how the Democratic Party’s hyper-cautious run-to-the-center strategy has so eroded the Democratic brand that nobody knows what the party stands for. Or if it stands for anything.

For a guy like Pete Buttigieg to win elections in right-wing Indiana is, IMO, damn impressive. It may be that South Bend is more liberal than the rest of the state; I wouldn’t know.  But when he says things like “there are a lot of Americans who my party can’t blame for ignoring our message, because they will never hear it if we don’t go on” and “We’ve got to find people where they are — not change our values, but update our vocabulary so that we’re truly connecting with Americans from coast to coast,” I know exactly what he’s saying, and I agree entirely.

 

When Rights Attack

We Americans sure do care about our rights, although it does seem some rights get more respect than others. And sometimes they cancel each other out.

Last year Alabama voters approved an amendment to the state constitution “declaring that the state’s policy to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life, the rights of unborn children – including a right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful – and that the Constitution does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

More recently, Sen. Cory Booker issued an open letter to all men

On Monday, the country watched as 25 men in the Alabama state Senate voted to make abortion a felony in the state, without even an exception for survivors of rape or incest. Two days later, the bill was signed into law. This attack on women’s fundamental freedoms and agency is a blatant assault on constitutional and human rights.

But what happened in Alabama is not an anomaly—it is part of a decades-long, coordinated, all-out effort to erode women’s reproductive rights and freedom nationwide.

Clearly, here we have an example of two conflicting rights that cannot co-exist.

What are “rights,” anyway? The Equality and Human Rights Commission says “Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life.” But Alabama has carved out a right that ends at birth, since it applies only to the “unborn.” And the Human Rifhts Commission still isn’t telling us what “rights” actually are.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines “rights” as “entitlements (not) to perform certain actions, or (not) to be in certain states; or entitlements that others (not) perform certain actions or (not) be in certain states.”

Rights dominate modern understandings of what actions are permissible and which institutions are just. Rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as it is currently perceived. To accept a set of rights is to approve a distribution of freedom and authority, and so to endorse a certain view of what may, must, and must not be done.

The encyclopedia entry goes on to discuss various kinds of rights and makes distinctions among things related to rights, such as liberties, immunities, powers, and privileges.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also says, “Human rights are norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to education.” This article goes on to consider whether rights can always be inalienable and absolute.. Most philosophers have said, not really.

Maurice Cranston held that human rights are matters of “paramount importance” and their violation “a grave affront to justice” (Cranston 1967). If human rights did not have high priority they would not have the ability to compete with other powerful considerations such as national stability and security, individual and national self-determination, and national and global prosperity. High priority does not mean, however, that human rights are absolute. As James Griffin says, human rights should be understood as “resistant to trade-offs, but not too resistant” (Griffin 2008). Further, there seems to be priority variation within human rights. For example, when the right to life conflicts with the right to privacy, the latter will generally be outweighed.

A few years ago I wrote a post called Wrong About Rights that describes a time a woman was preparing to make a speech at the University of Utah and was receiving death threats. In particular, she was warned that if she didn’t cancel her speech she would be shot. Both the University of Utah and local law enforcement denied her request to bar firearms from the venue, because people had a right to carry firearms, after all. So the woman canceled the speech, and intimidation won. The right of audience members to carry firearms trumped her safety and right to make a speech.

Another one of my favorite examples is the famous time a man waving a firearm in a public park in Georgia caused the parents of Little League teams to pull their children off the field and into shelter. Police could do nothing, because the firearm-waving man had a right to wave a firearm.

In both circumstances, it seems to me that somehow the “right” to carry a firearm had been privileged over all other rights. And if we’re defining rights as “norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses,” it seems to me that such privileging is enabling abuses.  When does a “right” cease to be a “right” and becomes a privilege that supercedes rights?

The so-called “heartbeat bills” — our eight-week embryo doesn’t actually have a heartprivilege embryos over adult women.

Proponents of House Bill 481 contend that life begins once an embryo’s heartbeat can be detected — at about six weeks, when it is about the size of one’s fingernail. And before most women even realize they’re pregnant.

Except there is no embryo or fetus in the “heartbeat” bill. There is only the “unborn child,” who would receive “full legal recognition” under Georgia law as “a natural person.”

It’s an embryo. It doesn’t have a heart. It doesn’t have a brain. Its neurological wiring is too primitive to allow for experience of any sort, including self-awareness or pain, according to science.

Human embryo at eight weeks’ gestation.  The embryo is less than an inch long and weighs less than 1/8 of an ounce.

But because this biological entity is to be privileged, rights must be stripped from girls and women, who do have hearts and brains and experiences. (Oh, and life doesn’t begin. It just is.) To extend a right to life to an entity that is not capable of liberty or the pursuit of happiness, we take those rights away from women.

In Wrong About Rights I wrote,

Awhile back the the late Ronald Dworkin, who was a professor of philosophy at New York University, compared the exercise of individual rights to playing a trump card. “Individual rights are political trumps held by the individuals,” he said. “Individuals have rights when, for some reason, a collective goal is not a sufficient justification for denying them what they wish, as individuals, to have or to do, or not a sufficient justification for imposing some loss or injury upon them.”

The problem is that we seem to have assigned trump status to some rights even when a greater good would be served by denying them.

At some point, it seems to me, the word “rights” became nearly meaningless. It’s just a trump card; this right trumps that one, because somebody says so. “Rights” these days are privileges or liberties given to particular groups, depending on who wins elections or who appoints judges. So the raped girl must carry the baby to term, the woman cancels her speech, and the children leave the park because their rights were trumped by someone, or something, else’s. Such “rights” were created by arbitrary political decisions and have little to do with “norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses.” They’ve become more like “privileges politicians extend according to their own psychological bugaboos.”

Abortion Law: Why Cruelty Is the Point

The current epidemic of medieval abortion laws being passed by state legislatures has inspired a lot of people to explain why such laws are cruel. See, for example, Rape victim who had illegal abortion at age 13 calls Alabama’s law ‘an abomination’ at USA Today. I support anyone who speaks out about such painful experience. But as gut wrenching as these stories are, they won’t change the minds of people who support abortion bans.

Yes, the bans are cruel. The cruelty is the point.

Let’s step back and look at where this anti-abortion fanaticism is coming from.

Abortion wasn’t always the subject of such fanaticism. Until the latter part of the 19th century it was a common thing that may not have been discussed in polite company, but it was openly practiced and few seemed to care. Under English common law adopted in the states, abortion was not illegal until “quickening,” or the point in pregnancy at which fetal movement could be felt, which is at about 15 weeks’ gestation, give or take. And abortion was mostly considered women’s business, unimportant to men.

But in the 19th century male physicians began to take over childbirth, which previously had been tended by midwives, and thus pregnancy met the patriarchy.

The [American Medical] association’s efforts were led by Horatio Storer, an obstetrician often called the father of American gynecology. Storer didn’t want the medical profession to be associated with abortion, and considered women’s desire to terminate their pregnancies to be tantamount to insanity. He felt that a woman’s biological role was to be a wife and mother, and that to disrupt that path was not just to commit a social crime, but murder.

“We are the physical guardians of women,” read the group’s 1859 report on what it called “criminal abortion.” “The case is here of life or death—and it depends, almost wholly, upon ourselves.”

The group made a concerted effort to delegitimize the work of the women who previously held the majority of knowledge about childbirth and pregnancy, and to prevent women from becoming obstetricians.

Storer was also keenly interested in making sure “civilization” was spread in the West by white Americans.

 “Shall” these regions, he asked, “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens? This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” Hostility to immigrants, Catholics, and people of color fueled this campaign to criminalize abortion. White male patriotism demanded that maternity be enforced among white Protestant women. … Regular medical men had entered the debate about sexual politics by attacking the female practice of abortion as immoral, unwomanly, and unpatriotic.

You get the picture. By the 1870s a handful of states had banned all abortions, and by 1910 or so abortion was illegal in all states. Of course, that didn’t mean abortions weren’t being performed.

Making abortion illegal never meant abortion didn’t happen. For the entire century of criminalized abortion, women of every class, marital status, religion and race still obtained them. Before Roe, hospitals had entire wards for patients experiencing sepsis after shoddy or self-­induced abortions. Chicago’s Cook County Hospital had 5,000 patients annually in the abortion ward — women who were bleeding, infected and sometimes dying.

The push to decriminalize abortion began in the 1950s. By the 1960s, the legislatures of several states were under pressure to change the law. In anti-abortion folklore it’s said that no one was arguing about abortion before Roe v. Wade was decided, but that’s nonsense; it was heating up as a source of contention even as we were all at each other’s throats over Vietnam. In 1967 California passed a law that allowed “therapeutic” abortions when a pregnancy endangered a woman’s life. In 1970 first Hawaii, and then New York, decriminalized elective abortion. And then, of course, Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

When Roe v. Wade was decided the Catholic Church already was opposed to abortion, although it hadn’t always been. But in 1973 abortion wasn’t a big issue among conservative Protestants and Evangelicals

In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

In brief, the same right-wing whackjobs who had opposed desegregation finally realized they had lost, so they seized on criminalizing abortion as their new holy cause.

Please also see How abortion unified Catholics and evangelicals to become a power on the right. This describes a debate in the California legislature in 1967:

Back then, many abortion opponents were Catholic Democrats, while many conservative Republican Protestants wanted nothing to do with the issue, viewing it as the province of Catholics, their theological adversaries.

Despite Beilenson’s plea, the Catholic Church fought hard against the bill, which would allow abortions when the pregnancy endangered the life or health of the woman or if she was the victim of rape or incest. Cardinal James McIntyre compared it to Herod ordering the slaughter of “Holy Innocents” in Bethlehem. But the legislature passed the landmark bill, which was then signed into law by the new governor, Ronald Reagan. Within a few years, some 20 states would follow.

The evangelicals’ ambivalence on abortion, an issue they now consider to be at the sacred heart of their morality, is striking. Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical professor who later became a major anti-abortion activist, at first refused to get involved. After his son, Frank, pushed him to join the anti-abortion movement, Schaeffer exasperatedly blurted out, “They’re Catholics!”

“How can you say you believe in the uniqueness of every human being if you won’t stand up on this?” the son yelled.

“I don’t want to be identified with some Catholic issue. I’m not putting my reputation on the line for them!” Francis shouted back.

But right-wing political operatives succeeded in getting conservative evangelicals and Catholics to form a political coalition around the abortion issue to help win the elections of right-wing Republican politicians. And that coalition is still a powerful force in today’s political landscape. Indeed, the evangelicals appear to have become even more fanatical than most Catholics in opposing abortion, which has brought them to the ignominy of being Donald Trump’s strongest base of support. Because, literally, nothing else matters to many of them them but stopping abortion. They have become full-bore, barking mad fanatics about it.

You’d think Jesus would have said something about abortion if it were that important to Christianity, but it doesn’t appear that he did. And yes, there were abortions in those days, too.

The Roots of Fanaticism

So now let us step back and consider where this newfangled anti-abortion fanaticism is coming from. There are many comments today on social media about “Talibama” and comparing the Alabama abortion bill to Sharia law. In truth, all reactionary religious conservatism, whether you call it “fundamentalist” or “extremist,” ends up looking pretty much alike. Religious extremists tend to be authoritarian and patriarchal. And they tend to subjugate women and treat them as sexual appliances.

So you see Islamic extremists punishing women for not being properly dressed in burquas, and we see right-wing polygamist sects in the U.S. keeping women in long, modest “pioneer” dresses. There are two purposes here. One is to deprive women of individuality. But the other is to cover any traces of women’s sexuality, which apparently is something religious whackjob men loathe and fear above all things.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Eldorado – Attorney Rod Parker advises a group of FLDS women as they prepare to speak to the media after being separated from their children Monday, April 14, 2008, at the YFZ “Yearning for Zion” Ranch.

The practices of forcing young girls into marriage and keeping women covered up in way too much cloth are common to religious extremist groups of many traditions around the globe. The men in these groups want to use women for sex, but it has to be entirely on their terms. They are too afraid of women to give them any free will or individuality. And yeah, they’re just about the sickest puppies on the planet.

Now, which came first — the sexual pathology or the religion? I’d say it’s some of both, but more the first factor than the second. These men are not afraid of women because they are religious; they cling to authoritarian religion because they are afraid of women. They use religion, or their own cherry-picked version of religion, to justify the fear and ugliness clanking around in their ids.

Now, I don’t believe the male legislators who are passing the abominable abortion laws are marrying little girls or keeping their wives wrapped in sheets, but their difference with the polygamist cult leaders is one of degree rather than kind. They are deeply conflicted about sex, which is why they are so obsessed with writing laws regulating sex. They are deeply insecure about their own sexuality, which is why they need to keep women under control. And they have more in common with most rapists than they’d care to admit. Rape can be an expression of hostility to women. Anti-abortion laws also are an expression of hostility to women, with the added advantage that the perpetrator can feel self-righteous about it.

And if you understand that, you understand why the legislators who write these  women-controlling laws are more interested in punishing abortionists than rapists:

If [Alabama’s] HB 314 is enacted, a first-time offender who is accused of raping, say, an intellectually disabled woman or a 13-year-old girl could potentially serve less prison time than a doctor providing an abortion.

Note that Alabama is also considering a law that would make it a crime to bring a false rape allegation. Now, I’m also opposed to false rape allegations, but rape is difficult to prove, and convictions can be hard to obtain, and a lot of rapists get off. If this bill is passed, a woman who really was raped will be punished if her rapist isn’t convicted, which commonly happens. If this law passes, it’s pretty much telling the women of Alabama that if they are raped, that’s their problem. Don’t bother the criminal justice system about it.

Alabama hasn’t gotten to the point that the woman accuser is stoned to death, but like I said — it’s only a difference of degree.

No wonder the anti-abortion cause became so central to these men’s lives. It feels good. It lets them act out their inner ugliness, without compunction. And too many women go along with it because they are conditioned to submit to the patriarchy and to measure their self-worth by the approval of men.

Cruelty Is the Point

I wrote in 2015 about evangelical support for Donald Trump,

On other words, the extrinsic [religious] orientation is mostly about social and cultural conditioning and group conformity dressed up as piety. … Their religion is not something they keep in their hearts and minds; it’s the uniform they wear. It’s the banner they carry.

That the “religion” some evangelicals manifest may have little to do with the teachings of Jesus shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, because it doesn’t. It’s mostly their culturally induced biases shoved into a Christian (or whatever) package. And an authoritarian figure who promises to smite those they are biased against is just too compelling. Who cares if he doesn’t know Presbyterian from popcorn?

Last October Adam Serwer wrote an essay called “The Cruelty Is the Point.”

The Trump era is such a whirlwind of cruelty that it can be hard to keep track. This week alone, the news broke that the Trump administration was seeking to ethnically cleanse more than 193,000 American children of immigrants whose temporary protected status had been revoked by the administration, that the Department of Homeland Security had lied about creating a database of children that would make it possible to unite them with the families the Trump administration had arbitrarily destroyed, that the White House was considering a blanket ban on visas for Chinese students, and that it would deny visas to the same-sex partners of foreign officials. At a rally in Mississippi, a crowd of Trump supporters cheered as the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who has said that Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump has nominated to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, attempted to rape her when she was a teenager. “Lock her up!” they shouted.

Ford testified to the Senate, utilizing her professional expertise to describe the encounter, that one of the parts of the incident she remembered most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge laughing at her as Kavanaugh fumbled at her clothing. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford said, referring to the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory, “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” And then at Tuesday’s rally, the president made his supporters laugh at her.

Serwer goes on to say that this cruelty, and the group enjoyment of cruelty, is the true basis of Trump’s support. The cruelty is the point. People who feel dissociated from the larger culture can find identity and meaning in Trump and communion with those who are derisive of everyone else. Please see “This Is What Evil Looks Like.”

So don’t expect the anti-abortion legislators  to be sympathetic to the child who was raped and faces pregnancy and childbirth. She is a sexual female, and must be punished for it. After all, the fetus she carries is “innocent life,” which is precious, even though these meatballs don’t give a hoo-haw about the sky-high infant mortality rates in their states. Expanding Medicaid is socialism. Spending tax money to provide prenatal and infant care isn’t fair to rich people. Or whatever.

There is no negotiating with such people. They must be vanquished. Utterly.