No Balls at All

No, Charles Blow, Democrats are not “bringing their letter openers to a gunfight.” And in no way, shape, or form are they “scared witless.”

Democrats face an unprecedented and challenging situation. It shows neither lack of wit nor shrunken cojones to proceed cautiously and think carefully about how to play the cards they have.

Jerry Nadler is a mensch. And so is Nancy Pelosi.

Mr. Blow’s colleague David Brooks makes the opposite mistake: accusing Nadler of declaring a bogus constitutional crisis.

Jonathan Chait roasts Brooks on a spit and eats him for lunch.

Em … em … good.

We do have a constitutional crisis on our hands. Crises are not handled well by folks who stick their heads in the sand. Nor is JUST DO SOMETHING!!! likely to lead to an optimal outcome. Cojones are wonderful, but you need to think with your frontal lobe.

Get a grip, people.


Bizarre Barr

it would be nice

The best way to find out what is in a document is to read it. I will probably try to read the whole Mueller report, but I haven’t yet had the time to do so. (Writing this blog is a hobby of mine, not a job, so I didn’t “pull an all-nighter.”)

If you want to read it for yourself, you can download it here. Or you can buy it on Amazon, inasmuch as there is no copyright in works of the United States government.

Meanwhile, in the past 24 hours an ocean of ink has been spilled by commentators commenting on Barr’s bizarre performance yesterday morning. I recommend, for example, the generally reliable Jonathan Chait, who nicely described the differences between the truth and what Barr said, in his post titled Congress Should Impeach William Barr.

But Chait thinks Barr’s toadyism is straightforward. By contrast, over at The Bulwark (Bill Kristol’s hideout) a post headlined No Honorable Middle Ground for Barr comes closer to the truth as I see it. Barr has learned from people like Jim Mattis and John Kelly that you cannot work for Trump while trying to preserve your personal integrity. If you try to do that, he will fire your ass on twitter.

That leaves the choice: either don’t work for Trump in the first place, or work for Trump and go full toady. OR AT LEAST PRETEND TO GO FULL TOADY.

So what happened yesterday? What happened was that in the morning Barr gave a news conference where he told lie after lie, see Chait, supra, and then, two hours later, released a redacted but still very meaty Mueller report that clearly revealed the mendacious nature of the morning news conference.

And just who was Barr trying to fool? I submit that he was trying to fool the one person in the country most likely to be taken in by this charade, to wit, one Donald J. Trump.

If Barr were an actual compeat today, then I think he would have redacted a lot more than he did react.

But you don’t have to take it from me. If Barr is an actual Trump toady, then he will shut down or obstruct the 14 still on-going investigations of Trump and his world, notably the federal investigation in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. That way, he can have the honor of occupying the same jail cell occupied by his illustrious predecessor John Mitchell.

But if Barr is only a pretend toady, he will let the investigations go forward while continuing to hop up and down yelling “no collusion”—until such time as Trump’s lizard brainf inally gets the message that he is being taken for a ride.

Poor Persecuted Brett

Kavanaugh weeps

Morning Joe went on a rant today about how the Democrats and “the media” are piling on to poor Bret, ergo Republicans are feeling aggrieved and angry, ergo Republicans are going to win the midterms.

Well, maybe they will and maybe they won’t.

Meanwhile, as he often does, Jonathan Chait nails it:

The FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh has turned out to be a fig leaf. Multiple reports tell the same story: The White House has controlled the probe, ignoring the attempts by multiple witnesses to reach investigators and wrapping up its work well before its already-tight deadline.

In the meantime, however, significant new evidence has appeared from the news media. It demonstrates beyond a doubt that Kavanaugh’s emotional testimony was a farrago of evasions and outright lies. …

During his testimony, Kavanaugh piously insisted his description as a “Renate Alumnius” was a term of affection for a friend they regarded as one of their own, devoid of any sexual connotation. Last night, The New Yorker reported one of Kavanaugh’s high-school friends’ detailed recollections that this was a complete lie. …

To the extent conservatives have acknowledged this at all, they have processed it as somehow confirming that Kavanaugh is being persecuted. Proof that he told repeated lies about his youthful drinking and treatment of girls does not suggest to them that his other claims about his youthful drinking and treatment of girls are probably wrong. Instead they have concluded he is being subjected to some new and irrelevant test of purity. “Will a full-bore investigation of adolescent behavior now become a standard part of the ‘job interview’ for all senior office holders?” asks Bret Stephens. What a bizarre description of reporters fact-checking Kavanaugh’s own testimony.

At the beginning of this process, I was willing to entertain the possibility Kavanaugh might be innocent. People can change. I believe he has grown into a better and more responsible adult than the drunken bully he was as a young man. He could have acknowledged and apologized for his misbehavior. Instead, he denied everything. Like Trump, he found a way to manipulate and exploit the emotional core of the American right, from the voters to the elites, almost all of whom now ignore or justify his lies in the greater cause of service to their party.

Looking Ahead Two Steps in the Game

If Republicans seat Kavanaugh on the Court, I predict, beyond peradventure of doubt, that Morning Joe will tell us that our own interest requires us to lick our wounds and talk about something else.

That counsel will be wrong.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, we should make it a day that will live in infamy.

Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Bunch of Folks

Kavanaugh Liberty

In a post this morning titled Brett Kavanaugh Is Probably a Goner Now, Jonathan Chait expatiates on Republican sentiment to hang on to their man from Animal House—and the many reasons why that sentiment is self-destructive:

Some of the views Trump and his allies have expressed over the Ford allegations explain their instinct. They fear and resent the power of allegations of sexual assault to threaten men in power, and believe that to succumb in this case would expose more men to such accusations and derail their careers. Some likewise believe that a Kavanaugh defeat would demoralize the base by removing the sheen of invincibility that Trump cultists have fashioned around the president. “You take away the whole ‘We’re sick of winning’ message,” warns one former Trump operative — unnamed, but probably Steve Bannon — “That’s a huge, marquee, top-line loss.”

It’s worth noting that this is completely irrational. It doesn’t even hold together by its own logic — Trump suffered a dramatic high-profile defeat over health care. And far from tricking his base into forgetting about it, Trump continues to remind them of the defeat for some reason, reliving John McCain’s thumbs-down moment at his rallies on the regular.

People do make decisions for irrational reasons. But the power ultimately does not rest with Trump, or even the majority of Republicans who have been rushing the hearings through and working to prevent either additional testimony or an FBI investigation. The power to decide rests with any two Republican senators who don’t want to support Kavanaugh on the terms the party has set, which means hurtling through new revelations without even the pretense of due diligence. If any two of them pull the plug, Trump has no choice but to find a new candidate.

At the end of the day, he has every reason to do that. Whatever personal attachment he has developed to Kavanaugh as a distinguished Ivy League jurist and subject of sexual-assault allegations, the truth is that there are plenty more where he came from. The Federalist Society is a machine that churns out properly credentialed jurists who reliably toe the conservative movement line. Even if vetting a new candidate takes time, and even if Democrats win the Senate majority, they can and will confirm their choice in the lame-duck session.

Kavanaugh is a massive liability now for a party that is already heavily identified with the grossest and most predatory aspects of male sexual entitlement. Keeping Kavanaugh at this point would be an act of sheer madness.

And May I Add:

If you are in a tough spot, and you learn some unwelcome news which is going to force you to cave, it really is a good idea to just go ahead and cave—as opposed to issuing a bunch of testosterone-loaded tweets, just before you cave.

This is what serious people–including seriously bad people–do, if they have the mental ability to process new information, and to think three steps ahead in a chess game.

I think it will take the Republicans another 24 hours or so to figure this out.

Prosecutorial Misconduct of the Highest Order


How to react to a story like the one below? Here’s my suggestion. When the other side makes a breathtakingly stupid argument, it’s a pretty good sign that they have run out of anything bearing a family resemblance to a good argument. It’s a sign of desperation.

Jonathan Chait, NRA Says FBI Is Treating Trump As Unfairly As Al Capone

 NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch informs her audience that the FBI is trying to pull the same tricks on Trump that they used to entrap the beloved Prohibition-era Chicago gang leader:

They’re trying to Al Capone the president. I mean, you remember. Capone didn’t go down for murder. Elliot Ness didn’t put him in for murder. He went in for tax fraud. Prosecutors didn’t care how he went down as long as he went down.

You might wonder why Trump’s supporters believe his legal defense is aided by analogizing him to a murderous criminal. Perhaps the answer is that Capone had several qualities that recommend him to the Republican grassroots base. He was a business owner — or, in modern Republican lingo, a Job Creator. He was an avid Second Amendment enthusiast. And, most importantly, Capone, like Trump, was a victim of the deep state. …

Here she is relying on the well-known legal principle of Anglo-American jurisprudence. You can’t charge Al Capone with tax evasion, and you can’t charge Donald Trump with campaign finance violations. A person can only be charged with their worst crime. And now Trump is prepared to join Al Capone as one of history’s most sympathetic victims of prosecutorial misconduct.

Not a Black Swan Event

black swan

Jonathan Chait’s post of this afternoon, titled Trump Hires the Worst People, According to Trump, usefully reminds us that Trump’s awful decision to hire Omarosa—unfit on multiple levels to serve as a presidential adviser—was not, shall we say, a black swan event:

It is not the first time Trump has accused himself of hiring terrible people. He accused his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, of having lost a crucial Senate seat for his party, “leaking false information to the media,” and having “lost his mind.” All in all, a reprehensible person to pick as your chief political strategist.

After former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg told the New York Times that Trump mistreated Michael Cohen, Trump attacked Nunberg as a “drunk/drugged up loser.” Trump also insisted at the same time that Michael Cohen is “a fine person.”

Trump has since changed his mind on Cohen, too. He recently accused his former attorney of fabricating stories and having been involved in criminal activity in New York …

Trump’s current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has called Cohen a “pathological liar.” Sounds like Trump picked a bad person to be his fixer, then.

Trump has likewise called his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, “very weak,” “disgraceful” and, most uncontroversially, “beleaguered.” (Which he is surely is, by Trump.) So Trump failed at his job of appointing a non-weak, non-disgraceful person for one of the most important jobs in government.

On top of this, Trump has repeatedly slammed his own appointments in private, according to numerous reports. He has dismissed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as “past his prime,” called Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “ditsy,” subjected Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson to a lengthy tirade in which he called her a total failure at his highest domestic priority, and so on.

Thank you, Jonathan, because it’ important to remember that …

context matters




The Sins of Father Conroy


Ruth Marcus gives additional context to the defenestration of the House Chaplain:

Ryan admonished the priest after the Nov. 6 prayer, saying, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics,” Conroy told the New York Times.

He was warned. He was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted.

Over the five months since Ryan’s warning, Conroy dared to continue to preach the teachings of Jesus on the House floor:

He prayed to God that lawmakers would help “the least among us.”

He prayed for them to follow the example of St. Nicholas, “who fed the hungry, brought hope to the imprisoned, gave comfort to the lost.”

He admonished lawmakers “to serve other people in their need” and “to pray for the unemployed and those who work but still struggle to make ends meet.”

After an immigration deal collapsed, he urged “those who possess power here in Washington be mindful of those whom they represent who possess little or no power.”

He prayed for lawmakers to be “free of all prejudice” and, after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, to “fulfill the hopes of those who long for peace and security for their children.”

One of my favorite liberal pundits has argued,

The House chaplain is not like a tenured faculty post at a university, which has some implicit protection for the right to give controversial political remarks. If you have a House chaplain — which I don’t even favor in the first place — you have no obligation to let them use the perch to push their own political values.

It’s important to separate substance from process. When you lose sight of that distinction, you wind up like Trump’s Republican allies, supporting anything their party does to advance their agenda. Ryan’s beliefs about taxes may be horrid, but he has no obligation to let the House chaplain deliver subtle rebukes to his ideology.

Makes perfect sense—from a secular point of view. And I’m sure that Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan’s patron said, would thoroughly approve of keeping religion out of Congress.

But from Father Ryan’s point of view, it wasn’t a matter of “ideology,” it was a matter of fundamental religious conviction.

The Lesson

The Lesson? If you don’t want Christianity to influence the prayers you hear, then for God’s sake don’t appoint a chaplain who is an actual Christian.

I’m sure it’s a mistake Paul Ryan will not make again.