News Bits du Jour

First, business — I am starting another mini-fundraiser to keep me going a bit longer here. Still struggling, but I think 2024 could be a bit better. Here is the Go Fund Me link. The “donate” button at the top of the right-hand column is connected to PayPal.

Also, I have not heard from gulag and have not received any response from my emails to him. His last comment was November 13. All we can do is hope.

Now, politics. ABC News has a report on what Mike Pence told Jack Smith’s crew about January 6. There are no bombshells, but it’s an interesting read. Pence remains someone who is hard to pin down. Even now he seems to want to be known for his loyalty to Trump while at the same time he is (understandably) separating himself from Trump’s attempt at a coup. He blames Trump’s “outside” lawyers, like Giuliani and Powell, for misleading Trump about the election results. He still can’t admit to Trump’s craven dishonesty and inability to face facts he doesn’t like.

The Koch Network has endorsed Nikki Haley for the GOP presidential nomination. Now we’ll see if the Koch Network has any clout with the base; I’m guessing not. But this could help boost Haley’s campaign fundraising quite a bit. She seems to be the one the Old Guard and what’s left of the “normies” are rallying around, now that they’ve gotten to know Ron DeSantis. But see Paul Krugman, “Nikki Haley Is Coming for Your Retirement.” She wants to bleep up Social Security, basically.

Trump, meanwhile, finally has said something about policy. Which is that he wants to replace Obamacare. He said,

“The cost of Obamacare is out of control, plus, it’s not good Healthcare. I’m seriously looking at alternatives,” he wrote. “We had a couple of Republican Senators who campaigned for 6 years against it, and then raised their hands not to terminate it. It was a low point for the Republican Party, but we should never give up!”

He seems not to remember that the reason killing Obamacare failed to pass is that there was nothing to replace it. And as far as Republicans are concerned, there still isn’t. And there never will be. And the Biden campaign is already reminding everyone about preexisting conditions.

Why Fascism Won’t Go Away

Here’s a sobering thought from David Kurtz at TPM:

By the time we sit down for turkey again next year, Donald Trump may be the president-elect for a second time. That persistent thought soured my holiday like spoiled deviled eggs. If this was the last Thanksgiving before the end of democracy as we know it, I hope you made it a good one.

In the last post I linked to Eric Lutz at Vanity Fair, Trump’s Attacks On Judge and Law Clerk Triggers “Hundreds” Of Threats: Report. David Kurtz adds,

Trump’s rhetorical attack on Thanksgiving came the day after a new revelation about the consequences of those kinds of attacks. The judge in the New York fraud case against him defended his gag order in a filing that revealed that he and his law clerk had received hundreds of credible threats in response to Trump’s attack. Among other things, the law clerk’s cell phone number and personal email address have been compromised.

Yet, somehow, the gag orders keep getting lifted, and the courts are taking their sweet time deciding whether to reinstate them. It’s as if the ambulance picks up a guy having a heart attack and then stops for doughnuts on the way to the hospital. Does one of Trump’s targets have to get killed to light a fire under some people?

Last night I finished reading Rachel Maddow’s book Prequel. You. must. read. this. There was much I did not know, although little of it was surprising. The one element I didn’t expect is that this massive plot that originated with the Third Reich to overthrow the U.S. government and replace it with a pro-German fascist state, for which the Department of Justice had tons of evidence clearly showing even some members of Congress were in on it, all got swept under the rug and the evidence classified after the War. So the corrupt thugs who took Hitler’s money and did Hitler’s bidding even as U.S. troops were fighting in Europe all got off without penalties. Because people were ready to move on, or something.

What was fueling a lot of the pro-Hitler sentiment in the U.S. was, of course, racism and antisemitism. Lots of people were ready to sell out the Constitution and democracy so they could deport — or worse — nonwhite people and Jews. Some things don’t change.  And if they’d had Fox News back then, they might have succeeded.

(What screwed Hitler’s plans more than anything else was Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which I understand he did not know about until it happened. For years he had spent considerable effort and money to ensure that the U.S. stayed out of his wars in Europe. December 7, 1941, swept all that away. Even then Hitler might not have declared war except that his invasion of the Soviet Union had stalled, and he persuaded himself that Japan would keep the United States busy in the Pacific, and that Japanese threats to Britain’s Asian colonies would weaken Britain.)

A lot of these American fascists were thugs who might as well have been wearing MAGA hats. They would have (and possibly did) murder their fellow Americans for the sake of the Cause. The rule of law meant nothing to them. And hardly anybody in the U.S. got the full story of the sedition, and now here we are again on the edge of a neo-fascist takeover.

Trump isn’t at all shy about letting the world know what he intends to do in a second term. See Donald Moynihan, Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the ‘Deep State’ at the New York Times. No paywall. If we as a nation survive this, no more moving on. There must be full public disclosure and justice this time.

Note: We haven’t heard from gulag in a few days. Yesterday I sent him an email and also an ecard (I will get a notice if it is opened), but I haven’t received a response. I will let you know if I do.

Why I’m Not Looking Forward to Another Election Year

This is the sort of thing that depresses the hell out of me.

Voters rank “the economy” and “inflation” as their top concern in every major survey. And they consistently express more faith in Trump’s competence on those issues than Biden’s. In a Bloomberg–Morning Consult poll from last month, swing-state voters favored Trump over Biden on the economy by a 15-point margin and trusted the Republican more than the Democrat to best handle the cost of everyday goods and services by 12 points. Those results are in line with the findings of various other surveys of both battleground states and the nation as a whole.

Of course, here in Real World Land President Biden and his economic team have done a brilliant job lowering inflation while avoiding a recession. A whole lot of other industrialized democracies are suffering much more than we are. And (as Eric Levitz goes on to explain) Trump’s plans for a second term would make inflation worse.

Voters’ faith in Trump’s price-management bona fides may rest on nostalgia for the 2019 economy, antipathy for Biden, or the belief that The Apprentice was a documentary. One thing it most certainly does not rest on, however, is an accurate understanding of the Trump 2025 agenda’s macroeconomic implications.

That agenda includes imposing a 10 percent tariff on all foreign-made goods, enacting large deficit-financed tax cuts, and slashing America’s foreign-born labor force through mass deportations and immigration restriction. Taken together, this constitutes a recipe for a drastic increase in U.S. consumer prices.

Trump doesn’t understand how tariffs work. In his first term he persisted in thinking that a tariff is somehow a tax imposed on the importing country rather than a tax on the imported goods that American consumers end up having to pay. One suspects that at least a few people have attempted to explain to him how tarriffs work, but he decided to trust his own “stable genius” rather than economists. And Trump is a bleeping moron.

I don’t think the American people have ever heard the story of what a terrible businessman Trump really is. That information was out there in 2016, but if you aren’t the sort of person who reads the long, investigative features in major newspapers  probably you wouldn’t have heard it. The truth is that his record as a businessman is awful. The real estate business he inherited from his father may have had some success after Trump took it over, although it’s hard to know now if any of that was real or just cooking the books. But it’s my understanding that every business venture Trump started himself ended up in bankruptcy court or just plain failed, or was shut down by a court because it was commiting fraud. If you know of an exception, do speak up. Were it not for tax and other fraud, being bailed out by The Apprentice, and probable money laundering for vaqious criminal entities he would have been wiped out long ago.

Some of this collective ignorance among voters is the Fox News effect, but some of it is the collective failure of U.S. news media. Too many allegedly “mainstream” news outlets just plain shy away from telling the plain truth, either because of losing access to Republican sources, or losing viewers, or possibly losing advertisers, or whatever.

And year after year people complain that elections are covered as if they were a “horse race” — who is ahead in the polls, who is behind — while the stories of the candidates’ records and what they might do if elected go mostly untold (except in those really long newspaper stories that only us nerds read). And by golly, so far as we move into a presidential election year, they’re pretty much doing that again, with the additional focus on Joe Biden’s age without noting that Trump is only three years younger.

The Biden campaign, at least, is complaining about some of the coverage of Trump. Charlotte Klein writes for Vanity Fair:

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign accused the political press this past week of not shining “a bright enough light” on Donald Trump’s abortion record, taking specific aim at a New York Timespiece that described the former president—who has boasted about his Supreme Court picks overturning Roe v. Wade—as now “employing vagueness and trying to occupy a middle ground of sorts” on the issue. “It’s time to meet the moment and responsibly inform the electorate of what their lives might look like if the leading GOP candidate for president is allowed back in the White House,” the campaign wrote. Biden campaign aides reiterated this critique on X. “Good to see folks have learned nothing from a decade of covering Donald Trump,” wrote deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty.

It’s a start.

In other news: X May Lose Up to $75 Million in Revenue as More Advertisers Pull Out. Comment on social media — “Elon has lost his wife, his kids, 40 billion dollars, and his space ship crashed. It’s like a genre of country music that doesn’t even exist yet.”

In actual sad news:  Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair, Trump’s Attacks On Judge and Law Clerk Triggers “Hundreds” Of Threats: Report. So maybe after a few people have been killed by Trump culties the gag order thing will be taken a bit more seriously.

Jim Crow Is Alive and Well and Wearing Judge’s Robes

I’ve started reading Rachel Maddow’s new book, Prequel. Chapter 3 is about how the Third Reich looked to U.S. racial policies for guidance on singling out Jews for discrimination. The Reich actually sent lawyers to the U.S. to understand how we did it, considering our laws said all kinds of stuff about equal protection that obviously wan’t practiced. And, basically, the answer was that the white men who ran everything had many ingenious ways to rationalize that the equal protection clauses simply didn’t apply to nonwhites, because reasons.

So it was creepy when this happened yesterday.

A federal appeals court issued a ruling Monday that could gut the Voting Rights Act, saying only the federal government — not private citizens or civil rights groups — is allowed to sue under a key section of the landmark civil rights law. …

… The appellate court ruled that there is no “private right of action” for Section 2 of the law — which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race.

That, in practice, would severely limit the scope of the protections of Section 2. On paper, those protections are themselves unchanged by the ruling. But for decades, private parties — including civil rights groups, individual voters and political parties — have brought Section 2 challenges on everything from redistricting to voter ID requirements.

The court’s reasons for this make absolutely no sense to me. But this is exactly the kind of thing courts used to do back in the 1930s to effectively nullify any legal language about equal protection and nondiscrimination. And yeah, the judge who wrote the decision was a Trump appointee.

Adam Serwer wrote at The Atlantic,

The Constitution is supposed to forbid such discrimination, but that sounds simpler than it is. In practice, if you have enough judges or justices willing to find unconstitutional the laws adopted to enforce that right, or willing to rule in such a way that nullifies the ability of those laws to function, you can simply render the Fifteenth Amendment useless. This is what the Supreme Court did after Reconstruction, when Black people were still trying to assert their right to vote and the justices decided it was a right they could not or would not defend.

And that judicial nullification was still going on when Hitler’s lawyers came here to study our legal system.

The majority’s reasoning is simple, if absurd. Although acknowledging that “Congress had ‘clearly intended’ all along to allow private enforcement,” it argues that the text does not say so explicitly, therefore Congress’s intentions, Supreme Court precedent, and decades of practice are irrelevant. The fact that this would allow lawmakers to discriminate against their Black constituents without interference from pesky civil-rights groups is an innocent coincidence. This interpretation of the law was teed up for the judges by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas in another 2021 voting-rights case in which the conservative-dominated high court weakened prohibitions against voting discrimination.

This decision will probably go to SCOTUS for review, I understand, but fat lot of good that is likely to do.

At Election Law Blog:

The majority reaches its decision with a wooden, textualist analysis. It reaches it decision despite recognizing that the Supreme Court and lower courts have for decades allowed such cases to be brought, assuming that Congress intended to allow such suits. And the majority acknowledges that the legislative history of the passage of Section 2 leaves no doubt: Congress intended to allow private plaintiffs to bring suit.

So, yes, this is an outrage.

Elon Is Upset and Other News Bits

After Elon Musk’s stupid endorsement of a blatantly antisemitic “x,” or whatever tweets are called these days, big name advertisers are fleeing the social media platform. Now Musk says he will file a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters for America first thing tomorrow.

Hitting back on Saturday at the exodus of advertisers on the platform, Mr Musk wrote a post in which he said: “Many of the largest advertisers are the greatest oppressors of your right to free speech.”

The Tesla founder added in a second post: “The split second court opens on Monday, X Corp will be filing a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and all those who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company.”

Musk blames Media Matters because it said X is placing ads for Amazon, NBA Mexico, NBCUniversal, and others next to content with white nationalist hashtags. Media Matters has screen captures.

President Biden has an op ed in the Washington Post explaining his position on Ukraine and Israel. “The U.S. won’t back down from the challenge of Putin and Hamas,” he said. In brief, he says Gaza and the West Bank should be “reunited” under Palestinian authority and calls for a two-state solution.

It also appears the U.S. has brokered a deal to pause the war and free the hostages.

See also Biden Skillfully Handled Xi Jinping’s U.S. Visit in Ways Trump Simply Never Could. “The president was gracious but tough, candid but thoughtful, and unlike his predecessor, did not sell out the country to a dictator.”

If you can somehow get through The Atlantic paywall, I recommend “The Women Who Saw 9/11 Coming” by Liza Mundy. It turns out some CIA and other analysts, working together, had been tracking the rise of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden going back to the late 1980s. And all through the 1990s they were trying to get their superiors to pay attention and take the growing threat seriously. The problem is that these analysts were all women, so the good old boys just patted them on the head and asked them to fetch coffee. And I absolutely do believe this happened. (Note: If you can’t get through the paywall even in an incognito window, download the article from this link.)

Today’s News Bits

The MAL documents case is going nowhere, and at a snail’s pace at that. It’s too obvious that Loose Cannon is deliberately trying to do Trump favors. And the bobbleheads on MSNBC last night said that the screwups that will certainly throw Cannon’s trial schedule way out of wack could very well impact the other Trump trials scheduled for 2024. But so far what Cannon is doing isn’t quite blatant enough to force her to recuse herself. Here’s a rundown.

Yesterday was Let’s Laugh at George Santos Day. The Ethics Committee Report came out, and it’s a doozy. He used campaign funds to shop in luxury stores and get Botox treatments. He made a $4,127.80 purchase at Hermes, for example. And he lied to everybody about where money was coming from and where it was going. There’s always been a level of exceptable graft in Washington; as long as it’s subtle and doesn’t leave a paper trail. But Santos was off the charts. Even his campaign staff told him he needed psychiatric help.

“House Ethics Chairman Michael Guest, a Mississippi Republican, introduced a resolution Friday to expel GOP Rep. George Santos of New York from Congress,” it says here. But they won’t be voting on it until they get back from Thanksgiving break. Santos has announced he won’t be running for re-election. Well, no, I’m sure he won’t. And he won’t qualify for any congressional pension.

Is Trump Getting Crazier? This is a question from James D. Zirin at Washington Monthly. In recent speeches Trump has confused Joe Biden with Barack Obama, called Viktor Orban the President of Turkey, and mis-stated what city he was in at the time. He also appears to be having a harder time with basic words,

But it’s not just misidentification. It’s the cadence and slurring of speech, too. Trump is having trouble with names. “On purpose” came out as “on perfect.” Adherents of Karl Marx came out as “markers,” not Marxists. He warned that Biden is drifting us into World War II.

He’s been doing stuff like that all along, though. Remember “covfefe” and the time George Washington’s Continental Army took over the airports? Trump’s head was never screwed on all the way. If his mental bumbling seems to be getting more frequent, it might be dementia, or it might be the stress of impending criminal charges. Or maybe all that hydroxychloroquine he said he was taking scrambled his brain.

Tom Nichols writes at The Atlantic that he’s been reluctant to call Trump a fascist.

Fascism is not mere oppression. It is a more holistic ideology that elevates the state over the individual (except for a sole leader, around whom there is a cult of personality), glorifies hypernationalism and racism, worships military power, hates liberal democracy, and wallows in nostalgia and historical grievances. It asserts that all public activity should serve the regime, and that all power must be gathered in the fist of the leader and exercised only by his party.

I argued that for most of Trump’s time as a public figure, he was not a fascist but rather a wannabe caudillo, the kind of Latin American strongman who cared little about what people believed so long as they feared him and left him in power. When he would make forays into the public square, his politics were insubstantial and mostly focused on exploiting reflexive resentment and racism, such as when he called for the death penalty for the Black youths wrongly accused in the infamous Central Park–jogger case. But Trump in those days was never able to square his desperate wish to be accepted in Manhattan society with his need to play the role of an outer-borough tough guy. He was an obnoxious and racist gadfly, perhaps, but he was still a long way from fascism.

As a candidate and as president, he had little in the way of a political program for the GOP beyond his exhausting narcissism. He had only two consistent issues: hatred of immigrants and love for foreign autocrats. Even now, his rants contain little political substance; when he veers off into actual issues, such as abortion and taxes, he does not seem to understand or care about them very much, and he will turn on a dime when he thinks it is to his advantage.

Trump had long wanted to be somebody in politics, but he is also rather indolent—again, not a characteristic of previous fascists—and he did not necessarily want to be saddled with any actual responsibilities. According to somereports, he never expected to win in 2016. But even then, in the run-up to the election, Trump’s opponents were already calling hima fascist. I counseled against such usage at the time, because Trump, as a person and as a public figure, is just so obviously ridiculous; fascists, by contrast, are dangerously serious people, and in many circumstances, their leaders have been unnervingly tough and courageous. Trump—whiny, childish, unmanly—hardly fits that bill. (A rare benefit of his disordered character is that his defensiveness and pettiness likely continue to limit the size of his personality cult.)

But now, Nichol says, his moment as a fascist has arrived. His recent rhetoric and stated plans for his second term put him squarely in the fascist camp. The problem is that so many people have been calling him a fascist all along that it’s not registering now.

Republicans Don’t Do Persuasion Any More

Yesterday the House passed a weird CR that kicks the can down the road a bit, past the holiday season at least. I am optimistic the Senate will pass it also, but you never know. Mike Johnson had to resort to the same tactic that got Kevin McCarthy axed as Speaker, which was to leave spending levels alone and get the thing passed with Democratic votes. Because there was no other choice.

The Freedom Clown caucus is furious as well as utterly obvlivious to the public outrage that would have fallen on their heads were the government to shut down right before the holiday travel season. Word is that the clowns are not planning to oust Johnson — yet — but they are thinking of gumming up the works in other ways to get revenge.

One tactic under discussion is the same one they used against McCarthy after he struck a debt deal they hated: holding the House floor hostage by tanking procedural votes.

“There is a sentiment that if we can’t fight anything, then let’s just hold up everything,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), one of several frustrated Freedom Caucus members who has huddled with the speaker multiple times this week.

If this were a ball game, they aren’t exactly taking the ball and going home. It’s more like they plan to just sit in the outfield and refuse to play.

And then yesterday was brawl day at the Capitol. Chris Hayes has highlights. The best part was when Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) tried to pick a brawl with Teamsters President Sean O’Brien and Bernie Sanders had to tell him to sit down.

Someone yesterday — it may have been Chris Hayes — commented that Republicans have given up on persuasion. They know only how to try to get their way by bullying, temper tantrums, and resorts to violence. For example, Marjorie Taylor Greene has been campaigning to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas because she doesn’t like his policy decisions. Which, of course, is not what impeachment is for. It somehow doesn’t occur to her that the House could, in theory, draft laws directing the Administration to handle border security differently. Indeed, as I understand it the past several administrations have more or less been winging it on the border in the absence of clear direction from Congress. And, frankly, if you were to sit MTG down and ask her to write the border policy she wants into a bill, I doubt she could do it, because she’s a moron. What she’s doing really is grandstanding for the cameras.

But it occurred to me also that the clowns can’t do persuation because their policy preferences are not based on facts or reason. For example, cutting the IRS budget is a top priority with them. One assumes they have wealthy benefactors who are pushing for this. Otherwise, it makes absolutely no sense. The Congressional Budget Office keeps trying to tell them that cutting the IRS budget would lead to a big loss in federal revenue and a net increasse in the budget deficit, but the clowns are not listening. Or they don’t care, because their reasons for cutting the IRS budget have nothing to do with saving money. Which is why those reasons must remain unspoken, I assume.

The clowns want draconian cuts in safety net programs. If you ask why, they will tell you something about forcing people to be more self-reliant and not depend on government. But that’s the excuse, not the reason, since they can’t demonstrate that cutting those programs would cause the steady jobs and affordable housing that weren’t available before to magically appear. The reason is that they want to punish the poor for being poor, especially the nonwhite poor. Why that is so must have something to do with ugliness deep in their own ids. It’s not something that can be expressed to make it sound benevolent.

And if there really aren’t fact-based, compelling reasons for your position, how can you possibly persuade others who don’t share your biases to agree with you? What else can the clowns do but bully, throw tantrums, and threaten violence?

The problem for House Republicans is that they have a majority in name only. They are fractured against each other, the Freedom Caucus versus most of the rest of them.

In other news: I am having a hard time keeping up with the gag orders and which ones are supposedly active versus on hold pending appeal. See Donald Trump’s Comments Could Land Him in Jail: Ex-White House Lawyer and Jack Smith Cites Medieval Murder as He Seeks Donald Trump Gag Order, both at Newsweek.

In more other news: See Senate Dems take major step towards ending Tuberville’s military holds at Politico. Unfortunately there is little the Dems can do unless nine Republicans are willing to vote with them.

Update: This just happened — Trump’s lawyers filed a motion for mistrial in the New York fraud case.

The motion for a mistrial centers on his increasing annoyance with Allison Greenfield, an attorney who serves as the judge’s right hand legal adviser—and one who has repeatedly shut down the billionaire’s attempts to stymie the New York Attorney General’s investigation and delay tactics in court. Now that Engoron has issued gag orders preventing Trump from directly attacking her and court staff—a restriction that he has since expanded to include Trump’s legal team from also engaging in ferocious personal insults against her—defense lawyers are now crying foul.

“This appearance of bias threatens both Defendants’ rights and the integrity of the judiciary as an institution,” they wrote in court papers, claiming that “Greenfield’s unprecedented role in the trial and extensive, public partisan activities, would cause even a casual observer to question the court’s partiality. Thus, only the grant of a mistrial can salvage what is left of the rule of law.”

The request is, of course, up to Engoron himself—who isn’t likely to side with the very attorneys who have spent weeks trying to gin up drama in court in an attempt to relitigate the entire affair on appeal in New York state’s higher courts.

Trump must be terrified out of his wits that he’s going to lose his New York properties.

Update: RIP Zandar.