Ain’t Gonna Be Biden, Folks


In January, a reporter contacted the nascent Biden campaign to request an interview. She wanted to ask the former vice president about lingering criticisms that were bound to come up on the trail: how, as a senator, he failed Anita Hill; his lead role in the 1994 crime bill; his vote for the Iraq war; his mixed record on abortion rights; his handsy ways; the hot mess that is Hunter.

And that little girl was me.

Maureen Dowd, Kamala Shotguns Joe Sixpack.

Read on. Read on.

The Supreme Court and the Plutocracy: How Matters Stand at the End of the Term


Many—not all, but many—of our country’s plutocrats have signed on to an overarching strategy: manipulate the system so they stay in power and enforce their will, no matter what the majority want.

To that end, they have employed a variety of tactics. Today, I have addressed three of them.

The Gerrymander Gambit:

When You Control the Legislature, Use Contemporary Software to Draw Districts So That You Always Win (or So You Think)

As explained in more detail in the post, this gambit is alive and well. But I think this particular glass is at least half full.

The Abortion Gambit:

Make Sure the Plutocratic Party Gets the Votes of the Most Strongly Anti-Abortion Voters

This scam is seriously beginning to unravel. Bigly.

The Undercount-the-Brown-People Gambit:

Make Undocumented Families and Mixed Status Families Scared Shitless to Fill Out the Census Form

The undercount-the-brown-people gambit appears to be in deep doo-doo.

The Let’s-Undercount-the-Brown-Folks Gambit

pants on fire

When the Supreme Court heard oral argument, back in April, in the census case (Department of Commerce v. New York), a lot of people thought the Fab Federalist Five were going to swallow—hook, line, and sinker—the government’s argument that they wanted to ask about citizenship in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Undercounting brown people? Why, heaven forfend! (See, e.g., Argument Analysis: Divided court seems ready to uphold citizenship question on 2020 census.)

But, as a famous fictional character pointed out, the courts read the newspapers. And the newspapers said that the argument in favor of the citizenship question was bullshit. And that this was not just suspected bullshit, but palpable, provable bullshit. And that Wilbur Ross was a liar and the truth was not in him. And that anyone who pretended to believe Wilbur Ross was exposing himself to an indelible charge of rampant hypocrisy.

Justice Roberts got the memo. Along with the four progressives, he wrote a part of the opinion saying, fairly politely, that Wilbur Ross is a lying liar with his pants on fire.

And what of the remaining four members of the Fab Federalist Five?

Justice Alito, writing for himself along, penned an abstract, verbose, legalistic argument, the gist of which is the claim that the decision of the Secretary of Commerce is not subject to judicial review. That approach allowed the good justice to avoid expressing any view about whether the Secretary of Commerce is in fact a lying liar whose pants are aflame.

Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch joined in a different, convoluted argument authored by Justice Thomas, based on the assumption that Alito might be wrong—the inclusion of the citizenship question might be subject to judicial review—but that, to make a long story short, the Secretary had proffered some valid reasons justifying the question, and the Court should bloody well ignore any other evidence of whether he was a lying liar.

Anyway, Justice Thomas added, the fact that the district judge had put together a whole bunch of evidence showing that Wilbur Ross couldn’t tell the truth if it bit him in the ass just went to show the judge’s wicked, partisan prejudice.

Not exactly a full-threaded defense of Wilbur Ross’s veracity, was it?

The Bottom Line?

First of all, to state the bleeding obvious, it’s interesting that there are limits to how far the Court, as presently constituted, will go to stack the deck blatently in favor of the plutocracy.

This is good news, or at least qualified good news.

Secondly, the various opinions, taken together, are an interesting commentary on the limits of bullshitting as a legal strategy.

Fetus Folk Further Foiled

Image: A woman holds a sign during an anti-abortion protest march to the Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens

A core tactic of the plutocracy is to string along the highly Catholic and extremely evangelical portion of the population by getting them to vote for the plutocratic candidate, in hopes of getting five or more justices who will overturn Roe.

Well, guess what, now we have five justices beribboned with the Federalist Society Seal of Approval.

And, guess what, twice this term they have passed up an opportunity to overturn Roe.

In Box v. Indiana, decided May 28, the Supreme Court took a pass on deciding whether the appellate court was wrong to overturn an Indiana law that would have prevented mothers from aborting their Downs Syndrome fetuses. In Harris v West Alabama Women’s Center, decided yesterday, they elected not to hear an appeal from an Eleventh Circuit decision overturning a 2016 Alabama law purporting to forbid a commonly used method of abortion.

In both of these cases, it will be noted, the Court was addressing old style anti-abortion legislation, of the regulate-abortion-to-death variety. They have not yet considered the new style legislation, that has become popular following the sanctification of Saint Brett Kavanaugh as the fifth Federalist Society justice and that dares the Supreme Court just to stop pretending that Roeis the law of the land. That said, either Box or Harris would have presented a golden opportunity for the Fab Federalist Five to overturn Roe, if they wanted to do so.

And let’s add one more salient fact, before engaging in a little speculation. In each case, Justice Thomas wrote a long dissenting opinion, damning to hell Roe v. Wadeand all its enablers. In each case, Justice Thomas’s opinion was joined in by … nemo, no one, nobody.

So, to review the bidding thus far: we know that Justice Thomas is willing and eager to overturn Roe—and appears to think the other members of the Fab Federalist Five are a bunch of wusses.

We may safely assume that Chief Justice Roberts, along with Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, very probably believe Roe was wrongly decided back in 1973. But we cannot presume they are willing to correct that perceived legal error—because, if they were, they would probably have done it this term.

Why not? Well, of course I don’t know, but I have to guess it’s because

  • the regulate-the-hell-out-of-abortion approach has been working pretty well,
  • overturning Roeoutright would engender holy hell, and
  • the ensuing holy hell would, in a number of ways, threaten and prejudice the long term project of the Fab Federalist Five to make the country legally safe and enjoyable for plutocrats.

The net result, though, is that, once again, Lucy has pulled the football out from under the fetus people.

Once again, they have been suckered and played for fools.

And so, it’s possible that some of them will decide that voting for plutocrats in order to get more Federalist Society justices is not the world’s best idea.

One can hope.

The Gerrymander Lives


In Rucho v. Common Cause, decided two days ago, the Supreme Court held that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”

I wish to adopt the views eloquently and persuasively presented by Charles Lane in an article titled, Progressives should be glad they lost the Supreme Court gerrymandering case.

The nub of the matter is that I don’t trust the present Supreme Court majority—not for a New York minute do I trust them—to decide objectively how much sophisticated gerrymandering is OK and how much is too much.

Would they apply the same standard to Democratic gerrymandering in Maryland and to Republican gerrymandering in North Carolina? Do you really think they would? Would you like to buy a bridge in Brooklyn?

And another thing. Lane doesn’t mention this, but I will. Republicans gerrymandered the congressional House districts to a fare thee well, but we still won in 2018. Their software-driven efficient gerrymandering blew up in their faces.

Let’s win some more state legislatures and governorships in 2020, and then gerrymander the hell out of THEM!

“Advantage Trump”

rule of law

Please pardon my repetitiveness, but this is really important. This from Andrew Sullivan, The Democrats are in a Bubble on Immigration:

In the U.S. in the 21st century, should anyone who enters without papers and doesn’t commit a crime be given a path to citizenship? Should all adversely affected by climate change be offered a path to citizenship if they make it to the border? Should every human living in violent, crime-ridden neighborhoods or countries be granted asylum in America? Is there any limiting principle at all?

I suspect that the Democrats’ new position — everyone in the world can become an American if they walk over the border and never commit a crime — is political suicide. I think the courts’ expansion of the meaning of asylum would strike most Americans as excessively broad. I think many Americans will have watched these debates on immigration and concluded that the Democrats want more immigration, not less, that they support an effective amnesty of 12 million undocumented aliens as part of loosening border enforcement and weakening criteria for citizenship. And the viewers will have realized that their simple beliefs that borders should be enforced and that immigration needs to slow down a bit are viewed by Democrats as unthinkable bigotry.

Advantage Trump.

Aardvark’s Animadversions

To begin with, is it your view that Sullivan has

  • stated correctly—or misstated—the views of Democratic presidential candidates?
  • stated correctly—or misstated—the views of progressives generally?
  • stated correctly—or misstated—your own views?

And if you think anyone’s views have been misstated, what changes would be necessary to correct the misstatements?

And if you think that Sullivan’s summary is correct, then what effect do you think this issue will have on the 2020 election?

And are you prepared for a glorious defeat?

Or do you have a strategy for convincing a majority of people that you are correct?

I Still Love You, Mayor Pete

Albeit—let the record reflect—in an entirely platonic way. (Dr. Aardvark still carries the keys to my heart.)

I know that, this morning, everybody’s talking about Kamala Harris. But I don’t regret the $50 I contributed to your campaign.

You are a brilliant 37-year old. Whoever the nominee is, you will be my choice for Vice-President.

And won’t it be a hoot when you debate Mike Pence?

“Socialism is Good”

As y’all know, I like to make musical contributions to the public policy debate. So feel free to sing along with one of China’s greatest hits, Shehui Zhuyi Hao, Socialism is Good.

And now, for your listening pleasure, two, rather different, versions of this catchy tune:

And here’s a little known fact: President Obama was also very fond of singing “Socialism is Good”:

You Won’t Like this Rant—But You Probably Need to Watch It

Skip to nine minutes in, for the beginning of the rant.

And, speaking of things that are hard, and that ought to be honest, not to mention true, let me make six points about illegal immigration.

One. What to do about illegal immigration and undocumented immigrants is far from our most immediate or our most important national problem. In the mind of a rational, well-informed person, immigration does not compare in importance to income inequality, climate change, health care, or a reckless foreign policy.

Two. Notwithstanding point one, in the minds of a large number of our fellow citizens, immigration is a vastly important issue.

Three. As a general matter, electoral success is not best achieved by ignoring inconvenient truths. Point two is an inconvenient truth, and we progressives ignore it at our peril.

Four. Furthermore, even though other issues are more important than immigration, immigration is far from trivial as a policy issue. Accordingly there is a duty—not only a duty arising from political expediency but also a duty arising from basic honesty—to try to think and speak coherently about the issue.

Five. If there is a coherent progressive position on immigration, it has eluded me.

Six. For many reasons—including making it harder to Trump to lie about our position—we need to develop an immigration policy that is coherent, that is moral, and that is understandable.

Are we in favor of open borders (perhaps with a fairly narrow exception for terrorists and people inclined to commit crimes of moral turpitude)?

I do not exclude the open borders position from the realm of respectable political discourse. But, if that’s what we are far, then we really need to be clear about it, and to be clear about the reasons for it.

On the other hand, if we are in favor of restrictions (other than for terrorists and career criminals) then we need to say what restrictions we do favor, and what steps we would be prepared to take actually to enforce those restrictions.

More specifically, what is our position on asylum? Are we in favor of the law as it presently exists—and just want to see enough resources employed, so that asylum cases are efficiently and justly adjudicated?

Should different legal standards for asylum be applied? If so, what standards.

And on the question of people coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador: should we, or should we not, open our borders to anyone who is just fleeing the rule of murderous gangs? Or are we prepared to turn some of them away? If so, which ones would we accept, which ones would we send back, and why?

And One Final Point

We seem to be floundering around a bit on health care and the meaning of “Medicare for all,” but I think that, for progressives, there is a qualitative difference between the immigration debate and the health care debate. On health care, there are some fairly coherent policy issues underlying the current discussion; they just haven’t been fully articulated and explained to the unwashed public. But on immigration, what I see is a whole lot of progressive candidates essentially ducking the key questions.

That might be a defensible approach, if we can get away with it. But I really don’t think we can get away with it. See Morning Joe rant, supra.

A First Thought for This Morning

root and branch.jpg

Alyssa Rosenberg, What Kamala Harris is asking of us is so much harder than a food fight:

To [run for president], you have to be ambitious in a way that prevents you from telling hard, honest truths, including about yourself. I can’t even imagine a world in which you could run for president and win by saying that some dreams, such as the one of ending racism in America, are too audacious to be achieved in two four-year terms, if they can even be achieved at all. There’s no model for standing on a debate stage and saying you’re sorry if you’ve done harm, and at the same time, that you are genuinely struggling with the call to disavow political relationships, even friendships, that were a meaningful part of your career.

The Trump presidency wouldn’t be so dangerous if the forces he awakened were some kind of collective delusion. Instead, the most frightening thing about him is just how many Americans were ready to buy what Trump was selling. Pulling him up root and branch is a first step, but it won’t remediate the rotten soil in which he grew. The opening round of Democratic debates has demonstrated just how hard that will be, and how vital a task it is.

The First Debate: a Few Observations

first debate

  1. Mi nombre es Arius Aardvark, y no soy candidato para presidente.
  2. I don’t think Rep. Tulsi Gabbard will be the next president of the United States.
  3. The average IQ of these ten candidates is maybe 15 to 20 percent higher than that of the 2016 Republican field.
  4. A propos of point 3, I do not contend that Republicans as a group are that much less intelligent than Democrats as a group. The point is that Democrats prefer intelligent leaders, while Republicans prefer less intelligent government leaders.
  5. I remain deeply impressed by Pocahontas. (At least she didn’t tell us about growing up on the reservation.) Here’s the reason: her big issue—that rich folks are running a racket, and are picking your pocket—is profoundly true, profoundly important, and profoundly relevant to who’s going to win in 2020.

I come to this insight in part based on my life experience, much of which has involved being a well compensated water boy for the plutocracy, and in particular for the pharmaceutical companies.

I think that some of my fellow progressives who have had a different life experience—maybe they were schoolteachers or social workers or research scientists—hear what Pocahontas has to say, and it sounds shrill and exaggerated.

No ladies and germs. A trifle shrill it may be, but it’s all true. Every word of it.

Now, you could take the argument to the next step, and say, “Well, maybe it’s true that the rich people are scamming us all, but the most important issue is climate change, because climate changes threatens to kill us all.”

Or maybe you might think, “Well, what Pocahontas has to say about inequality is basically right, but I don’t think it’s a winning argument, politically.”

Those are legitimate debates. You could also legitimately think that Pocahontas is just a bit shrill.

But if you don’t understand the truth of what Elizabeth Warren is saying, then you lack a fundamental grasp of what is going on in this country.

Here’s a Hint on Strategery: Don’t Take the Hostage Unless You’re Prepared to Shoot the Hostage

hostage taker

Trump has set himself up, either to start a major war, or to look idiotic if he doesn’t start a major war.

Trump threatens ‘great and overwhelming force’ against Iran:

President Donald Trump warned Tuesday that an Iranian attack “on anything American” would result in a military response — just days after the White House scuttled a retaliatory strike against Tehran following the shoot-down of a U.S. surveillance drone.

“Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & Obama!” the president wrote on Twitter.

Trump’s threat came hours after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ridiculed the White House as “afflicted by mental retardation” following the administration’s announcement of new sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and several military commanders.

Aardvark’s Animadversion

Talking about thinking four steps ahead in the chess game. The guy can’t even think one step ahead.

And another thing. Some people respond to bullying by bowing to the bulliy’s demands. Many do not.

I really don’t think the Ayatollah responds well to bullies. How the hell do you think he got to be the Ayatollah?

Why Donald Trump Didn’t Kiss That Footman


‘She’s Not My Type’: Accused Again of Sexual Assault, Trump Resorts to Old Insult

I am reminded, once again, of what happened when Oscar Wilde sued for defamation over the allegation that he was a “sodomite.” Here’s the crucial piece of cross-examination:

Counsel: How old is he?
Witness: He was about sixteen when I knew him. He was a servant at a certain house in High Street, Oxford, where Lord Alfred Douglas had rooms. I have stayed there several times. Grainger waited at table. I never dined with him. If it is one’s duty to serve, it is one’s duty to serve; and if it is one’s pleasure to dine, it is one’s pleasure to dine.
Counsel: Did you ever kiss him?
Witness: Oh, dear no. He was a peculiarly plain boy. He was, unfortunately, extremely ugly. I pitied him for it.

We’re So FUKT


This just in: this morning the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the long-standing statutory law preventing the registration of immoral or scandalous trademarks. In doing so, they vindicated the free speech rights of a gentlemen who wants to sell clothing branded with “FUKT” trademark. (You can buy the T-shirts on—available in men’s, women’s, and “youth” sizes. I will hazard the guess that the latter are the best sellers.)

I have not read the opinion or thought deeply about the constitutional issues, nor do I propose to do so. But two quick points.

One, even if he couldn’t brand his clothing as the FUKT brand, the gentlemen in question could still sell his clothes under some other brand label of his choosing, lettered with all the swear words he liked. It’s just that, without the trademark, he couldn’t enlist the government’s help in protecting himself from counterfeit FUKT brand garments.

Two, don’t you think our national discourse is already course enough as it is?


Smart and Smarter

Trump caught in an Iran trap. A smart analysis by Greg Sargent. An even smarter exposition by Jonathan Chait.


Greg Sargent, Mike Pence just revealed something important about Trump’s Iran decisions:

In an important essay, Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Niskanen Center notes that a key feature of the “malignant nationalism” animating Trump and his intellectual supporters is the notion that international integration that requires accepting any constraints on the nation’s prerogatives cannot ever be acknowledged to be succeeding.

Trump’s worldview did not permit an acknowledgment that the Iran deal — an imperfect but carefully negotiated settlement that our allies continued to favor — was preventing nuclear weapons. So he had to say it was weak and a failure, and he had to pull out. Instead, Trump vowed to be so unilaterally tough that he’d force total capitulation (without firing a shot) alone.

This has made war more likely, and as Susan E. Rice points out, avoiding it would involve recommitting to a diplomatic solution that would entail settling for something short of total capitulation. But Trump can’t do that. Yet he doesn’t appear to want war, either.

So, as the Pence interview shows, we’re trapped in a situation where Trump is lurching wildly between reluctance and belligerence, even as the situation continues to escalate.

Even Smarter

Jonathan Chait sees Trump’s aim as a rebranding exercise for the Iran nuclear deal, just what he really wanted—and still probably wants—is to rebrand Obamacare as Trumpcare. IMHO, absolutely right, and right on point.

Jonathan Chait, Why Trump Is So Confused About His Own Iran Policy:

Obviously, actual Iran hawks in the Republican foreign-policy elite didn’t design their policy around the objective of reducing anti-American chants. The chants were just an easy way of stoking resentment among the Fox News audience. What they didn’t quite count on was that one of those angry couch-potato grandfathers in their target demographic would be elected president.

So Trump hates the Iran deal. But he’s also not onboard with the actual conservative policy alternative, which is to use threats of war to force Iran to give up not only its nuclear program but also its support for militant proxies and possibly also (depending on which version of the strategy you listen to) its entire theocratic system of government.

Trump is now publicly describing his own national security adviser as a dangerous warmonger. “John Bolton is absolutely a hawk,” he tells NBC. “If it was up to him, he’d take on the whole world at one time, okay?”

What seems to be going on here is that Trump just assumed he could cut a better deal with Iran than Obama did, just as he assumed he could design a better health-care-reform law than Obama did. Just as Trump didn’t realize the actual Republican health-care plan was to take insurance away from people who couldn’t afford it on their own, he also didn’t realize the actual Republican Iran policy is a conflict ratchet that requires him to at least be willing to start a massive war.

So he’s trying to get out of his own mess with the strategy he used with NAFTA. Step one is to call the existing deal the worst agreement of all time and cancel it. Step two is to negotiate small tweaks. Step three is to declare the tweaked/rebranded deal to be the greatest treaty of all time.

The notion that Iran would become rich was the chief conservative complaint about the nuclear deal. Now

Dumb and Dumber

dumb and dumber

I probably should apologize for the cynical, condescending headline of this post. But employing a strategy that separates the moderately dumb from the willfully pigheaded ignoramuses turns out to be key to winning the country back.

A Politico post from 5 AM this morning tells us that Democratic group’s poll shows Trump vulnerable with his base on health care: American Bridge is planning a $50 million advertising campaign targeting small-town Trump supporters and swing voters:

American Bridge polled voters in small towns and rural areas, screening out self-identified liberal Democrats, to find out what they thought of the president. The group gave Trump a positive job approval rating overall, and it backed a generic Republican for Congress by 29 points over a generic Democrat. But the Republican-leaning pool of voters also gave Trump unfavorable ratings on several key issues, highlighting potential avenues of attack for American Bridge: 50 percent rated Trump negatively on “cutting taxes for people like me.”

Several health care questions were worse for the president. Just 25 percent of respondents gave Trump a positive rating for “reducing health care costs,” compared to 67 percent who rated him negatively, while they split against Trump 39-51 on “taking on the drug and pharmaceutical companies.”

The polling is “trying to unpack where Trump’s branding exists and where there might be openings to have a conversation with these voters about Trump in a way that makes them reconsider their loyalty or attachment to him,” said Molly Murphy, a Democratic pollster with the firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research who is working on the project.

There is evidence from the 2018 midterms that, while Democrats have struggled mightily with rural voters in recent elections, there is an opening for improvement.

Voter-file analysis recently conducted by Catalist, the Democratic data firm, indicated that the party’s gains in 2018 House races were actually strongest in rural areas, not the suburban ones that got more media coverage, relative to the results of the 2016 presidential election. The gains “weren’t enough to get over 50 percent and win seats in many rural districts,” Catalist’s Yair Ghitza wrote — but winning a bigger share of the rural vote in key swing states in 2020 could put Democrats on a path back to the White House.