Malacandra.me

Waves

Each wave was broken, but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed. ... One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest, and toppled over and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in the fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more.

- T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

This week's featured posts are "The Conor Lamb Victory: lessons for Democrats" and "Who Are Those Guys?" which covers some of the new faces in major Trump administration positions: Larry Kudlow, Mike Pompeo, and Gina Haspel.

This week everybody was talking about a Democratic victory

Most of what I have to say is covered in the featured post. But there is one more thing:

Hoping to get some election insight that wasn't showing up yet on the networks, Tuesday afternoon I perused #pa18 on Twitter. I didn't find any secret exit polls or deep inside knowledge of what was happening, but I did notice something interesting. Republican tweets were full of warnings about a Democratic dirty trick: People at the polls would try to tell Republicans (specifically Republicans) that they couldn't vote because of the reorganization of Pennsylvania's congressional districts. The redistricting doesn't apply until November, the tweets said, so you should insist on voting and call this number to report whoever had tried to stop you.

None of the tweets I saw noted a particular precinct where this had happened or named a person it had happened to. As best I could tell, it was a pure fantasy.

I saw no comparable Democratic tweets, even though a Republican-dominated district would seem to offer far more opportunities for Republican dirty tricks. Pro-Lamb tweets had more of a cheerleading aspect: We can do this, we're going to make history, and so on. The closest thing I saw to the Republican tweets were the ones urging you to stay in line to vote, because they can't close the polls while you're still waiting.

You can draw your own conclusions, but here's mine: Republicanism these days is all about resentment, so the way you get out the Republican vote is to tell them that somebody is trying to cheat them. Never mind that the actual dirty tricks are overwhelmingly on their side: They're the ones demanding new forms of ID and organizing "ballot security" groups to harass legitimate voters. The present-day conservative movement has evolved away from all its old principled stances: small government, balanced budgets, free markets, and spreading democracy abroad. All that's left is feeling cheated and wanting to strike back at somebody.

and Trump's cabinet shake-up

I discuss this in "Who Are Those Guys?"

and the student protests against gun violence

The Wall Street Journal says that a million students participated in about 3000 protests Wednesday morning.

In D.C., thousands observed 17 minutes of silence as they sat with their backs to the White House. I love this photo of that moment: The girl is central and in focus, the White House small and a little blurry.

If you haven't already, you should listen to what the students have to say. Look at this video and this one. Or this clip from MSNBC's Last Word.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP4mCcpKNIA[/embed]


Do I believe this set of protests will break the power of the NRA and bring sensible gun laws to the United States? No, probably not. But I offer these kids the Lawrence of Arabia quote at the top of the page, to read and remember at those moments when it seems like nothing (or only a pitiful portion of what they imagined) has been accomplished, and they are tempted to ask themselves "What was that all about?" They have already worn away a chunk of the rock, and this is not the last time this particular sea will rise.


Conservatives will tell you that liberals make everything about race or gender. It turns out there's a reason for that: if you dig deeply enough, everything is about race or gender.

Scientific American reviews the research about the increasing number of guns in America: Since the start of the Obama administration, the number of guns manufactured in the U.S. has tripled and gun imports have doubled. But it's not that more and more people are buying guns -- around 42% of households own a gun, a number that's held steady for decades. It's that a small number of people are stockpiling more and more guns: 3% of the population now owns half of them.

So who are these people? White men, mostly. But not all white men.

According to a growing number of scientific studies, the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile.

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.

What's interesting about these results is that they flip one of the common NRA scripts about mass killings: The problem isn't guns, it's moral decay. It's mental illness, it's boys without fathers, it's video games that dehumanize victims, it's a punishment for taking God out of the classroom, and so on. None of that pans out in the research. But the research Scientific American is citing finds a moral link that doesn't excuse guns as a cause, but goes through guns. Loss of meaning and purpose in life causes people to turn to guns. The Gun is the new God.

and the continuing effort to obstruct justice

The Republican effort to keep the public from knowing what happened in 2016 revved to a higher level this week. The House Intelligence Committee is ready to submit its Sgt.-Schultz-like report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Jeff Sessions sent a warning to all the FBI agents investigating the Trump administration by firing Andrew McCabe just 26 hours before his retirement, possibly screwing up his pension. Trump's lawyer called for the end of the Mueller investigation. And Trump himself tweeted attacks on McCabe and Mueller, as well as James Comey.


Undoubtedly, the House report will be approved on an party-line vote, as it has been a very partisan investigation from the beginning. The Democrats on the committee not only played no role in writing the report, they didn't even see it until Tuesday.

According to the one-page summary now available (the full report has to go through a declassification review before it can be released), the report will dispute the universal conclusion of the U.S. intelligence services of "Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump". Also

We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

No doubt that statement is literally true, because the committee's Republican majority didn't look for such evidence and didn't want to see it in the evidence they found.

For months it's been clear that the committee was not running a serious investigation. Repeatedly, White House and Trump campaign officials would go to the committee, answer the questions they wanted to answer, and give no valid grounds for refusing to answer all other questions. Since a majority vote was necessary to subpoena those who wouldn't testify voluntarily, or to cite for contempt witnesses who refused to answer valid questions, the committee mostly has assembled the information that Trump wanted it to have.

The committee used its power to harass and intimidate Trump critics, rather than to investigate their claims.  For example, it subpoenaed the bank records of the firm that funded the Steele dossier, but not records that would shed light on credible accusations that the Trump Organization engaged in money laundering for Russian oligarchs.

Again and again, it has staged elaborate sideshows to distract the public from the questions it should have been trying to answer. This report is yet another distraction. I agree with The Washington Post's editorial conclusion:

History will not judge kindly these legislators who abased themselves and their institution.


The justification for McCabe's firing is a report by the Justice Department Inspector General that still hasn't been released, so there's no way to know how solid it is. Maybe McCabe actually deserved to be fired, or maybe the Justice Department caved to political pressure to strike back at someone Trump blames for his legal troubles.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that McCabe inappropriately allowed two top officials to speak to reporters in 2016 about his decision to open a case into the Clinton Foundation. This incident was under investigation as part of a broader look into how the FBI and Justice Department handled themselves during the most recent presidential election.

According to reports about the watchdog’s conclusion, which is still under wraps, McCabe apparently misled investigators during an interview with the inspector general, a charge McCabe denies.

McCabe himself sees another rationale:

The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.

Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. ... This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.

As if to corroborate McCabe, Trump began tweeting against McCabe's firing, James Comey, and the Mueller investigation, supporting McCabe's contention that these are all connected in his mind.

but keep your eye on Russia

The poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, now a citizen of the United Kingdom is an important story to watch play out.

The key fact, to me, is that Russia is not even trying to get away with it. The chemical agent used in the attack was easily traceable back to Russia; they might as well have left a signed note. The point seems to be to make a statement, like certain mob killings, where it wasn't enough to get some guy out of the picture, he had to die in a hail of bullets that would leave no doubt who was behind it.

The UK has thrown out some Russian diplomats in retaliation, and Russia has thrown out some UK diplomats. If it ends there, Putin has won. Vox' Zeeshann Aleem notes that the UK has a much stronger weapon: It could freeze the London-based assets of Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin. But will it, given how much this Russian money means to London bankers and the UK economy in general? This follows the script of the old KGB kompromat: entangling a victim in schemes that make it hard for him to resist further schemes.

The US has signed onto a joint statement with France and Germany backing up the UK, but again, it's not clear how far we're willing to go. Putin may well come out of this feeling as if he won: The Western democracies made some noise, but in the end they did nothing  of consequence.


To no one's surprise, Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election.

and you also might be interested in ...

Far from "draining the swamp", Trump's new tariff policies are a bonanza for lobbyists.

“The dinner bell is ringing for the trade bar and associated lobbyists and consultants,” said Chip Roh, a former partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Lawyers and lobbyists are employed on both sides, arguing for and against exemptions, he said, adding, “It creates a fertile field.”


The erosion of local news coverage continues: The Denver Post is laying off another 30 journalists.

The newsroom would be below 70 positions: a startling drop from a time not much more than a decade ago when the Post and its rival, the Rocky Mountain News, together had more than 600 journalists. (The papers were in a joint operating agreement until the Rocky went out of business in 2009.)

Top editor Lee Ann Colacioppo comments on the impact of that loss: "It’s been a long time since we sat through every City Council meeting."

What we're seeing here is the growing "efficiency" of capitalism. Local newspapers used to be privately owned enterprises that, in the course of their normal function, provided cities with a public good: oversight. Public institutions knew that if they became too brazenly corrupt, someone would notice and make an issue of it. But it is inefficient to provide benefits that you don't get paid for. The more efficient a business becomes, the closer it comes to capturing all the benefits it generates. The public good? Who's paying for that?

and let's close with something with a public service announcement

What better way to teach responsible alcohol consumption than to watch someone go slightly over the line? Shannon Odell is a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Cornell Medical College, and is also seriously cute and adorable -- which shouldn't matter, but does. She explains the physiological effects of alcohol on your brain and nervous system while drinking shots.