Drowning in Idiocy


As you all know, I get by with a little help from my friends.

The Joy of Pandemics

As an example, my attention has been called to Paul Krugman’s column, No, Team Trump, the Coronavirus Isn’t Good for America: The commerce secretary just flunked microbe economics. Krugman writes,

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, appeared on Fox Business on Thursday morning to declare that he “didn’t want to talk about a victory lap,” but that the coronavirus “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” By saying this, he demonstrated a couple of things: (1) why Gail Collins’s readers voted him Trump’s worst cabinet member, and (2) why Trump’s trade war has been such a failure.

What Ross and his colleagues apparently still don’t understand — although some of them may be getting an inkling — is that modern manufacturing isn’t like manufacturing a couple of generations ago, when different countries’ industrial sectors were engaged in fairly straightforward head-to-head competition. These days we live in a world of global value chains, in which much of what any given nation imports consists not of consumer goods but of “intermediate” goods that it uses as part of its own production process.

In such a world, anything that disrupts imports — whether it’s tariffs or a virus — raises production costs, and as a result if anything hurts manufacturing.

Oh, and by the way, we may not be prepared to handle a pandemic.

Driving into the Dreck

Meanwhile, another friend points out that, in Germany, they’re using Brexit to sell off-road vehicles.

The caption reads of the German ad above reads, “Do you also feel like driving your car into the dirt? Off-road vehicles now at bargain rates at SIXT.”

What Senator Murkowski Meant

Senator Murkowski is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor yet the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

There are two and only two sensible ways to interpret the senator’s statement.

Interpretation One

Trump cannot get a fair trial in the Senate because 37 Republican senators would vote to acquit if he raped a Girl Scout on C-Span.

Interpretation Two

The Senator has turned Pentecostal and taken up speaking in tongues.

Senator Murkowski Has Some Thoughts to Share with You


Her statement today is as follows:

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today released the following statement on the Senate vote regarding additional evidence for the court of impeachment:

“I worked for a fair, honest, and transparent process, modeled after the Clinton trial, to provide ample time for both sides to present their cases, ask thoughtful questions, and determine whether we need more.

“The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena.

“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed. 

“It has also become clear some of my colleagues intend to further politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the Chief Justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort. We have already degraded this institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another.

“We are sadly at a low point of division in this country.”

When Trump Has Friends Like Lamar Alexander, Who Needs Enemies?


Bill Kristol has a long record as a pundit, and is almost the perfect poster child for the slogan, Often in Error, but Never in Doubt.

But he just misses the cut, because not only is he “often” wrong, he’s wrong pretty much all the time.

Nevertheless, we may all take pleasure in reading Kristol’s piece today, expatiating on the theme that Lamar Alexander has well and truly stuck it to Donald Trump.

Splainin’ to Do

Meanwhile, there seems to be a proposal afoot to have each of the one hundred senators make a speech explaining his or her votes on witnesses and on acquittal..

A capital suggestion.


“Inappropriate” is When I Eat My Salad with the Dinner Fork

place setting

A Huge Mystery

Trump continually acts like an asshole and then calls his conduct “strong” and “smart.” He acted like an asshole with the Ukraine military aid, but instead of calling it “strong” and “smart,” he spent months covering it up. He’s still trying to cover it up, viz., the ongoing efforts to block Bolton from telling his story.

The logical explanation is that he knows he’s guilty as sin, or that he fears that too many others will think he’s guilty as sin. That’s generally why criminals cover up their crimes. But that explanation doesn’t seem to fit how Lizard Brain thinks. Especially since he would have been a hell of a lot better off just owning up to what he did and saying “So what.”

And, by the way, the “so what” defense would also have been one hell of a lot better for his lickspittles in Congress. With the “So what” defense, they wouldn’t have had to deny the undeniable. Sure, they would come off as knaves, but they could escape making themselves fools as well.

So why didn’t he do it? I think it’s still a mystery.

A Second Mystery

A related mystery is why he didn’t develop an effective legal defense. Here, however, the explanation is easier to find: he has the mind of a four-year-old, his thinking is magical in nature, and he cannot take competent professional advice.

The Republicans’ Dilemma—and Lamar Alexander’s Resolution of the Republicans’ Dilemma

The dilemma is that you really can’t say

  • he didn’t do it, or
  • the House didn’t prove he did it, because there was no direct evidence,

and then stop your ears to the direct evidence when it becomes available.

Or, rather, you can do those things, but only if you are prepared to come off as both an utter knave and a consummate fool.

It follows that if you are bound and determined not to hear from the direct witness, then you must agree with the premise that he did it (and then take the position it’s not impeachable).

In his statement, Lamar Alexander rightly saw he had to bite this bullet, not just nibble at it.

Going Forward

Every senator who now votes to acquit will have to answer—or brazenly dodge—the question, do you agree with Lamar Alexander that the House proved its case on the facts, and had a mountain of evidence?

If the answer is yes, then the next question becomes, Well, that’s interesting, so why did you spend several months blathering about “lack of proof” and “no direct evidence”?

If the answer is no, then the next question becomes, Well, then, why don’t you want to hear from the goddamn witnesses?

“Inappropriate But Not Impeachable”

Having grasped that he will have to rely on the fallback argument “wrong but not impeachable,” Alexander then punts:

  • first by substituting the hilariously inappropriate word “inappropriate” for the word “wrong,” and
  • second by dodging any coherent account of why he thinks the conduct is not impeachable.

Senator Alexander thus eschews the knavery of denying the undeniable, but beclouws himself as a fool, by asserting an indefensible abstract proposition but failing even to try to defend the indefensible.


Senator Alexander Would Like You to Know that Republican Quibbling is Nonsense, and the House Proved its Case, So There is No Need for More Witnesses, and We Can Now Acquit

missing witness

The following is a press release, issued late last night, by the office of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee):

Washington, D.C., January 30, 2020 — United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on his vote regarding additional evidence in the impeachment proceedings:

“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense. 

“There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine. There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’ There is no need to consider further the frivolous second article of impeachment that would remove the president for asserting his constitutional prerogative to protect confidential conversations with his close advisers. 

“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.

“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.

“The Senate has spent nine long days considering this ‘mountain’ of evidence, the arguments of the House managers and the president’s lawyers, their answers to senators’ questions and the House record. Even if the House charges were true, they do not meet the Constitution’s ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ standard for an impeachable offense.

“The framers believed that there should never, ever be a partisan impeachment. That is why the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction. Yet not one House Republican voted for these articles. If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist. It would create the weapon of perpetual impeachment to be used against future presidents whenever the House of Representatives is of a different political party.

“Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.”   

Dershowitz Complains that the Media Made Him Look Like an Idiot by Reporting What He Said


Washington Post, Dershowitz claims media ‘willfully distorted’ his remarks:

Trump defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz pushed back Thursday against criticism of his remarks about the president’s actions, arguing that the media had “willfully distorted” his remarks.

“Taking advantage of the fact most of their viewers didn’t actually hear the senate Q and A, CNN, MSNBC and some other media willfully distorted my answers,” he said in a tweet.

He added that members of the media had “characterized my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.”

During Wednesday’s question-and-answer session, Dershowitz, a Harvard Law emeritus professor, had declared, “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

cant anybody here

Jonathan Chait further elucidates the Dershowitz argument:

Alan Dershowitz, one of the members of President Trump’s legal team, has an odd habit of using the reductio ad absurdum technique to his own arguments. Dershowitz argues that “abuse of power” is not a category of behavior that can be impeachable. He admits he previously believed the opposite, and that the vast majority of constitutional scholars believe the opposite, but claims to have delved into it and discovered that they are all wrong. Dershowitz has conceded that even if Trump handed Alaska over to Vladimir Putin, that would not be an impeachable offense.

Speaking in the Senate trial Wednesday, he managed to express his own principle in an even more absurd fashion. “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest,” he said, “that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” So any abuse of presidential power designed at least in part to aid his own reelection is not impeachable.

What if the president were to pressure foreign governments to imprison members of the opposing party if they pass through their territory? Or withhold disaster aid from a governor unless that governor announces an investigation of the president’s rival? Offer pardons to anybody who kills his opponent? If it helps the president win, then you can’t impeach.

And That’s the Best They’ve Got?

Asses in a Sling

ass in a sling

I have made this point before, but in our breathless attention to the will-there-or-won’t-there-be-witnesses drama, we tend to lose sight of the principle. Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure doesn’t literally apply to Senate impeachment trials, but logic and justice require the application of its spirit. The rule says, “The court shall grand summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (It continues, “The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion.”)

By the way, a “material” fact is a fact that is important enough to affect the outcome of a case. It’s the opposite of a trivial or an unimportant fact.

And I don’t have to tell you the difference between a “genuine” dispute and a bogus dispute.

In consequence, Republicans can comfortably vote to call no further witnesses if they are willing to entertain the truth of every allegation in the articles of impeachment, yet find some abstract reason why Trump’s conduct was not impeachable.

If that is what they do, then we can have no legitimate quarrel with their failure to call witnesses—only a quarrel with whatever bullshit abstraction they employ to whitewash the facts.

If they cannot find such an abstract proposition on which to hang their hats, and yet still refuse to call witnesses, then they not only spit in the face of 75 percent of the country, they also spit in the face of due process. Because there is no justice where the judge just dismisses the case on a whim, without calling witnesses, despite genuine dispute over facts that are material to the outcome of the case.

Here is where the Republican senators each find that his or her ass is in a sling.

Alan Dershowitz has offered such a proposition. A friend just sent an email summarizing his formulation of this evening thusly: “He said, every politician running for office credibly considers what they do to get elected to be in the public interest.  Ergo, anything they do to achieve that end is in the public interest.  Hence, Trump was acting in the public interest, and not for his private gain.”

Employing Dershowitz’s formula, nothing a president does could meet the standard of impeachability.

The Republican senators’ asses are in a sling because the Dershowitz formula is ludicrous. Yet, at this stage in the proceedings, no one on their side has offered a more appealing formula—a more limited proposition that would still absolve Trump.

So, to avoid looking like a bunch of jackasses, they have got to come up with that more appealing legal rationale

  • on their own,
  • over the next few days,
  • in the face of almost unbearable pressure.

Ladies and gentlemen, this will be a challenge, for at least two reasons.

The first reason is that a lot of the Republican senators are not very smart.

The second reason is that they are trying to resolve an issue—the the debate over what exactly are “high crimes and misdemeanors”–whose proper resolution has, for well more than two centuries, eluded consensus by a great many folks who are a great deal smarter than they are.

And they are trying to resolve that important policy argument in just a few days, while doing a lot of other things at the same time, where many of them lack the intellectual equipment to get the job done, even in more propitious circumstances.

There is every reason to think they will botch the job, and that right badly.

And may I say, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of folks.

Methinks I Spy the Fine Italian Hand of Rudolph William Louis Giuliani

Fine Italian Hand

Talking Points Memo, Shokin Demands Criminal Probe Of Joe Biden In Declaration To Kyiv Prosecutors:

Discredited Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin demanded in a Tuesday affidavit that Kyiv prosecutors open a criminal investigation into Joe Biden.

Shokin repeated long-debunked allegations in the declaration, accusing Biden of “blackmail” and violating international law in pushing for Shokin to be fired in 2016.

The filing marks the latest attempt to have Ukraine open a criminal investigation into a potential opponent of President Trump’s in the 2020 election. It comes as the Senate holds an impeachment trial of President Trump over allegations that he attempted to have Ukraine announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 elections.

Shokin has popped up throughout the pressure campaign on Ukraine as a source of debunked information for President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, alleging that Joe Biden fired Shokin to block an investigation he was conducting into a Ukrainian gas firm on whose board Hunter Biden — the Vice President’s son — sat.

Yes, They’re Hanging Upside Down, Caught in a Very Uncomfortable Place

squirrel balls

Shrinking violet Rahm Emanuel explains How impeachment could flip the Senate. Fun Fact: “Some 63 percent of voters in [swing states] Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina look unfavorably on the Senate’s decision to date to disallow witnesses and hide documents.”

Irrelevant elderly curmudgeon George Will muses on the theme, There is more utility than futility in the impeachment trial. Along the way, he observes,

The 20 Republican senators seeking reelection this November (incumbents from Kansas, Tennessee and Wyoming are retiring) will face voters after explaining why they voted as they did concerning trial witnesses, and for or against acquittal. Intelligent, public-spirited senators can reasonably disagree about the necessity (or, given the ocean of information that is public and undisputed, the redundancy) of witnesses. And they can differ about the applicability of the two impeachment articles. It will, however, be useful, and probably entertaining, to hear Republican senators’ reasoning.

Meanwhile, former President of the Mitt Romney Fan Club, Jennifer Rubin, sticks her neck out:

Nothing should be taken for granted but Bolton in all likelihood will make an appearance. Whether McConnell will force individual senators to walk the plank to vote against the president’s wishes or whether Republicans will simply agree by acclamation to protect vulnerable members of the herd remains uncertain. Equally uncertain is whether there are 51 votes for witnesses beyond Bolton. Democrats would like to hear from acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Mike Duffey from the Office of Management and Budget and White House aide Robert B. Blair. However, those witnesses may uncover the identities of further witnesses. Most important, with witnesses will come documents Trump had ordered withheld from Congress.

Republicans have no witnesses who can corroborate their thin arguments, none of which really contradict the House’s case. They keep threatening to call former vice president Joe Biden, but given how he is lapping up the admissions from Republicans that this is all about smearing him, Republicans might want to reconsider. Biden even made an ad out of one senator’s confession that Republicans were hoping the trial damaged Biden.

Just a Couple ‘o Thoughts

I have no idea whether Ms. Rubin’s cheerful prognostications will come to pass. This morning the talking heads on the teevee were saying that Moscow Mitch has something up his sleeve when he claims that he doesn’t yet have the votes to block witnesses and summarily acquit. But if he’s lying, they didn’t explain why, at this particular time, he’s telling that particular lie.

Assuming it is a lie, and not the literal truth.

Sometimes, as Freud may or may not have said, a cigar is only a cigar.

Sometimes, when you think you’re seeing a squirrel with his nuts caught in a garden pole, what you are in fact seeing is a squirrel with his nuts caught in a garden pole.

Donald Trump, Schrödinger’s Cat, and Hermione Granger

S Cat

It appears that Donald thought he could withhold military aid from Ukraine, offer no explanation, be discreet about it, and let the Ukrainians figure out that they were being extorted—after which epiphany, they would knuckle under and pretend to be investigating the Bidens.

In the dysfunctional morass that is Donald’s mind, he thought he could extort Ukraine and not extort Ukraine.

Like Schrödinger’s cat, which is both alive and dead at the same time.

It’s as if, in his mind, he’s like Hermione Granger, and has magical powers to be in two places at once.  For example, on July 25, 2019, he could be in Washington extorting Ukraine in a telephone call, while simultaneously visiting wounded warriors at the Denver VA.

It follows that Trump most assuredly did not extort Ukraine.

And that his behavior was perfect.

Though quite difficult to explain to those without his mental powers.


Looking Good

squirrel balls

The above photo depicts a typical Republican senator, reflecting on whether to vote for or against witnesses..

This is the sort of thing that happens when you let a five-year-old determine American foreign policy, and then let the five-year-old determine his own defense strategy.

McConnell says he lacks votes to block witnesses, reports the Washington Post. This may have something to do with today’s Quinnipiac poll:

On week two of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, registered voters say 75 – 20 percent that witnesses should be allowed to testify in the impeachment trial, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pea-ack) University national poll released today. Support for witness testimony includes 49 percent of Republicans, 95 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of independents.

“There may be heated debate among lawmakers about whether witnesses should testify at the impeachment trial of President Trump, but it’s a different story outside the Beltway. Three-quarters of American voters say witnesses should be allowed to testify, and that includes nearly half of Republican voters,” said Quinnipiac University Poll Analyst Mary Snow.

So, what’s going on here? Well, the twenty percent who don’t want witnesses are the hardest of the hard core cultists. But, a lot of the rest of the Republicans—that would be the 49 percent of Republicans who want witnesses—are folks who have believed the Trump snake oil. They have believed he did nothing wrong. They yearn to hear from the witnesses who will blow the Democrats out of the water.

And what’s going to happen if the Republican senators deny them their moment of triumph? What’s going to happen when they don’t get to see Shifty Schiff slink of the room with his tails between his legs?

I’ll tell you what’s going to happen.

It’s gonna be Cognitive Dissonance City.

Now, I know that a lot of you cynics think just like Doofus Donald. A lot of you think that the Trump supporters’ appetite for bullshit has no limits. And I understand why you may entertain that view.

But I tell you: even the stupidest among us have some limits to their stupidity. If you keep on pushing, and keep on pushing some more, then, there will eventually come one glorious day, you will reach those limits.

Ladies and Germs, It Doesn’t Matter What Happens on Friday

If they vote to hear witnesses, then we’re off to the races. Time to restock the beer and popcorn.

If they vote to hear no witnesses, then we’ve still got them down where the hairs are short. Let them explain to the voters why they think presidents are above the law. Let them explain the coverup. Let them explain why Trump’s actions were perfect.

“Not a Single Witness Testified,” or, Pop Goes the Weasel

Philip Bump, Trump’s legal team outlined its case. One day later, John Bolton appears to have kneecapped it:

“Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting, or anything else,” Purpura [one of Trump’s lawyers] said.

The most important words in that sentence aren’t the ones about the connection. They are “witness” and “testified.” By including those words, Trump’s team is constraining the scope of what it’s considering to only those dozen and a half people who sat down as part of the impeachment inquiry. …

On Sunday evening, the day after Trump began outlining its case, the New York Times reported on a much more substantial example of where Purpura’s claim was too narrowly tailored. In August of last year, the paper reported, Trump told then-national security adviser John Bolton that he wanted to hold the aid until Zelensky agreed to the investigations Trump wanted to see, according to a manuscript of Bolton’s upcoming book. …

Purpura spent a great deal of time on Saturday making clear this point about the lack of witness testimony. He noted that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland had asked Trump what he wanted from Ukraine, with Trump volunteering that there was “no quid pro quo” involved. Of course, that conversation came after Trump was aware of a whistleblower complaint raising questions about a quid pro quo and after The Post’s editorial board had drawn a direct link between the aid and the investigations.

More broadly, Purpura noted witness after witness who did not draw such a link. He cited name after name, walking through the collection, as though clearing police lineup after police lineup meant that no crime had taken place.

The emergence of a second potential witness who could be precisely what Trump’s legal team said didn’t exist is hugely problematic for Senate Republicans. Purpura’s phrasing was carefully and cleverly tailored to exclude Mulvaney, but it now introduces the counterpoint: If the important thing is solely that the testimony implicating Trump be from sworn witnesses, how does one argue against having Mulvaney and Bolton be sworn witnesses? 

This, Ladies and Germs, is a Rhetorical Question

The answer could be to employ the Nancy Reagan Rule: Just Say No.

Isn’t Weaselly Word Chopping by Lawyers Deplorable?

Well, everyone is entitled to her or his own view on that question.

But we do it all the time, if we think we can get away with it.

OK, Was it Reasonable for the Trump Defense Team to Think They Could Get Away with Word Chopping This Time?

What do you think?

They were sitting on the bloody Bolton book manuscript!


Lots of readers in the UK, today. Happy Brexit, y’all.

A Jigsaw Puzzle with a Single Piece Missing

missing piece

Jonathan Chait writes,

A wide swath of evidence has established that the Trump administration attempted to trade diplomatic favors with Ukraine for investigations. Several aides testified, or communicated to each other at the time, that they understood this to be the policy. Trump demanded the investigations in public, implicitly dangled them in his phone call with Ukraine’s president, and his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney publicly confirmed the quid pro quo in a press conference. But every one of these pieces of testimony, in one form or another, fell short of the standard of (1) being sworn testimony (2) by a person who spoke directly to Trump AND (3) heard him explicitly condition the meeting and aid for the investigations. It was like a jigsaw puzzle with a single piece missing, the picture completely apparent. …

Well, so much for that.

Last night’s revelation that John Bolton’s forthcoming book reports the exact piece of evidence that Trump’s legal team insisted did not exist, that Trump specifically told Bolton that he was holding up the military aid in return for investigating the Bidens. Trump’s lawyers not only claimed this evidence did not yet exist, but called it one of the facts that “have not, and will not, change.”

The bind that Republican senators are in is readily apparent. (But if you need any help, check out the rest of today’s Chait piece.)

I have no idea what these fuckwits will wind up doing. But I know exactly and precisely what their least bad course of action is: adopt the Arius Aardvark Defense.

If I were, say, Cory Gardner, that would be my story and I would be stickin’ to it