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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Cannon Comes Out Firing
      •  Today in Dumb Op-Eds: Pardon Me?
      •  Today in Unsubstantiated Nonsense: The Biden Tapes
      •  Yet Another Invented Power of the Senate
      •  What Is Greg Abbott Up To?
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude: An Overreach of Biblical Proportions
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude: To Give Is Better Than to Take

Cannon Comes Out Firing

Now that Donald Trump has been arraigned, his (federal) case is headed to the courtroom of Judge Aileen Cannon. Yesterday, she issued her first order in the case.

Because the order was relatively brief and relatively straightforward, it does not appear to have been posted online yet, so we can't provide a link. However, what it says is that by today, "all attorneys of record and forthcoming attorneys of record" have to get in touch with the DoJ to discuss security clearances. And by Tuesday of next week, all attorneys have to file a notice with the court that they have done as they have been told. Both of Donald Trump's attorneys, Todd Blanche and Chris Kise, have already taken care of business. And presumably, the prosecution attorneys already have clearances. So, it would appear that hurdle #1 in this case has been cleared.

If you would like a "glass is half full" interpretation of this news, it suggests that Cannon is not dragging her feet, and she's prepared to adhere to her district's "rocket docket" reputation. This was an obvious order, and was going to be issued at some point anyhow, but "some point" could easily have been next week or even next month. She could drag her feet in other matters, of course, but do not discount the possibility that even if she's in the bag for Donald Trump, Cannon's own self-interest could argue for playing this case straight and avoiding further embarrassments courtesy of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

If you would like a "glass is half empty" interpretation of this news, on the other hand, it suggests that Cannon is not going to recuse, and that she plans to stick with this case. She still could recuse, of course, or she could be nudged (or ordered) off the case by one of her superior judges. But she does not seem the sort to willingly give up such a high-profile opportunity, and hitting the ground running like this would seem to argue in favor of that assumption.

And as long as we are on this subject, yesterday New York AG Letitia James answered a question that has been on the minds of politics-watchers across the nation. James said that the two Trump cases in New York—i.e., the one brought by James and the one brought by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg—will have to wait until the federal case(s) is/are resolved. The AG also guessed that any case brought in Georgia would also have to wait. Obviously, the latter isn't James' call; we'll have to see how Fulton County DA Fani Willis feels about the matter, assuming she does indeed bring charges against the former president. It's certainly possible for two cases to move forward at the same time, especially since Georgia and Florida are next to each other, and Trump has his very own airplane. But maybe Willis will also defer to the feds.

And finally, something that is not worth its own item, but is probably worth its own paragraph. As we, and everyone else, noted, Trump's first stop after being arraigned was the well-known Cuban restaurant Versailles. Cameras captured his triumphant entry, and the one-day-early chorus of "Happy Birthday," and Trump declaring that "food for everyone" would be provided. As it turns out, Trump stayed at Versailles for a grand total of 11 minutes—just long enough for the photo op. Not surprising; after all, the restaurant doesn't have Big Macs on its menu. Also, Trump skipped out without actually leaving any money, meaning he did not honor his promise, even though it would only have cost him a pittance, relative to his (supposed) vast wealth. It would be hard to think of a story that encapsulates the essence of Trump better than this one does. (Z)

Today in Dumb Op-Eds: Pardon Me?

Just about every major outlet that covers politics has one or two or three token right-wingers. Some of them, like Henry Olsen at The Washington Post or Bret Stephens at The New York Times, sometimes have something interesting to say. Others are knee-jerk reactionaries whose pieces are invariably a waste of space, and often appear to be lifted directly from the list of talking points that the RNC circulates among GOP politicians and pundits each week.

Two of the very worst of the latter group are Marc Thiessen, who publishes his blather in the Post, and Rich Lowry, who edits National Review and also spews out nonsense for Politico. And yesterday, they both managed to produce the same basic op-ed. Thiessen's was headlined "Biden should pardon Trump. Really." And Lowry's was headlined "A Trump Pardon Could Drain Poison from the System."

We cannot know if these two men were just rehashing the RNC's weekly list, or if they arrived at the same place independently. Probably the latter, if only because we doubt the RNC is to the point of admitting that Trump might be in trouble. In any case, both Thiessen and Lowry make the same argument. From the Thiessen piece:

In pardoning Trump, Biden would be a true statesman. Sparing the country the ordeal of a trial would go a long way toward repairing the nation's frayed political fabric. He would display the kind of leadership that has been missing in Washington. And he would drive Trump crazy. With one action, Biden would eliminate the narrative of a "deep-state" conspiracy that is helping to fuel Trump's political comeback.

And from the Lowry piece:

What we should want to avoid is a pattern of legal retribution and counter-retribution. That would distort our legal process beyond anything that's happened to this point, further subordinating it to politics and undermining public trust in it. Perhaps this prosecutorial tribal warfare has already been unleashed, but a Trump pardon has a chance of sapping some of the poison out of the system.

It is not surprising that this is the argument they make, because it's really the only argument they can make. They can't exactly claim Trump is innocent, and that these charges are all trumped up (no pun intended), because the evidence is rather damning.

Of course, this argument conveniently overlooks two important things. First, it is a gross example of bothsidesism, rooted in the notion that Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty of weaponizing the political system and equally guilty of injecting poison into American politics. There can be no doubt that Democrats bear some of the blame here, but we're not talking 50/50, or anything close to it. Maybe 70/30 for the Republicans (and, in particular, the Trumpublicans). Maybe 80/20.

The other problem is that criminal convictions serve several purposes, and one of the most important of those is to send a message to future would-be wrongdoers. There's really very little question that the pardon of Richard Nixon was partly responsible for teaching Trump that he could get away with anything. After all, The Donald literally deployed Tricky Dick's famous line "If the president does it, it's not illegal." Trump also had Nixon fanboy Roger Stone whispering in his ear on a regular basis. If Trump were to be pardoned, it would not only affirm that presidents are above the law, it would also send the message that national security is really no big deal.

In short, even if we put politics aside (and Joe Biden would infuriate Democrats if he let Trump off the hook), there's no way a pardon is forthcoming from this White House. And surely, Thiessen and Lowry know that. Truth be told, as we read these two pieces, there was a single word that kept popping into our minds: bargaining. Some Republicans, including Trump himself, are denying he did anything wrong. Still others, like Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and his band of merry FCers, are venting their anger with the DoJ. Thiessen and Lowry are bargaining. Some Republicans, like Frank Luntz, are depressed, lamenting that the 2024 presidential election is probably a lost cause. And a few Republicans, like Bill Barr, accept that Trump blew it big-time, and that he's likely to be convicted.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Those are the five stages of grief. Is the Republican Party processing this in such a way that we'll eventually see some significant amount of acceptance? Stranger things have happened. (Z)

Today in Unsubstantiated Nonsense: The Biden Tapes

And now, let's talk about another de facto line of attack in the ongoing right-wing defense of Donald Trump. The latest "news" on the Joe Biden corruption front is that there are recordings of the President, near the end of his time as VP, demanding (and allegedly getting) a $10 million bribe from Burisma.

This is being presented as fact by right-wing commentators. For example, Margot Cleveland is the Senior Propagandist... er, Senior Legal Correspondent for The Federalist. In a piece headlined "The Bidens 'Coerced' Burisma To Pay $10 Million In Bribes, Says Credible FBI Source," Cleveland writes:

The Bidens allegedly "coerced" a foreign national to pay them $10 million in bribes, according to individuals familiar with the investigation into the FBI's handling of the FD-1023 confidential human source report. What, if anything, agents did to investigate these explosive claims remains unknown, however, with sources telling The Federalist the FBI continues to stonewall.

On Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley revealed a foreign national—identified by individuals with knowledge of the matter as Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky—allegedly possessed 17 recordings implicating the Bidens in a pay-to-play scandal. While 15 of the audio recordings consisted of phone calls between Zlochevsky and Hunter Biden, two were of calls the Ukrainian had with then-Vice President Joe Biden, according to the FD-1023.

The remaining 12 paragraphs continue in the same vein.

At this point, the B.S. detector of anyone who is not in the bag for Trump, as Cleveland is, should be blaring at top volume. There are two aspects of this story that stand out as particularly phony to us. The first is how very convenient it is that the supposed damning evidence against Joe Biden is almost exactly the same as the actual damning evidence against Donald Trump. There are recordings of the 45th president saying incriminating things? Well, guess what, there just so happen to be recordings of the 46th president saying incriminating things, too! Whataboutism, anyone?

The second large, red flag (among many smaller red flags) is this: Why is this coming to light now? If there is real, legit dirt on Biden, how did it not come to light during the 2020 presidential campaign, when it ultimately would have done him more harm? Why are we only hearing about it at a time when Donald Trump and his supporters are desperate and grasping at straws?

The upshot is that this does not pass the smell test at all. The right-wingers who are trying to take Biden down have operated in bad faith many times, such that they no longer get any benefit of the doubt. Further, we live in a world where it is entirely possible to fake audio (and video) recordings. That means that, even if the alleged recordings somehow surface later this afternoon, we're simply not buying it until there is heavy-duty evidence of their being real. Serious forensic analysis by experts in recorded evidence—something like that.

Of course, the tapes are not going to surface later this afternoon. Because—and you'll want to make sure you're close to your fainting couch before you read this next part—Grassley, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and other Republicans in Congress are now backing off their claims and conceding that they're not entirely certain that the tapes even exist. Surprise! Certainly didn't see that coming.

We are reluctant to pay any notice to this sort of nonsense. However, we also know there are readers interested in whether the scandalous claim du jour has any merit to it. So, we write this item to make clear that this one does not. (Z)

Yet Another Invented Power of the Senate

It's a pretty old story at this point, so most readers are probably familiar with it, but Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is holding up Senate confirmation of military promotions. That means both changes in grade (e.g., from colonel to brigadier general) and changes in job title (e.g., from Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Chair of the Joint Chiefs). Since the Senate has to approve any promotion to O-5 (lieutenant colonel/commander) or above, as well as any appointment to a major command post, there are now hundreds of officers left in the lurch, including many who are having to delay retirement and many others who are having to assume their new commands on an "acting" basis.

The bee that is in Tuberville's bonnet (helmet?) is the Biden administration policy that the government will pay travel costs for any member of the armed forces who gets an abortion. The Senator is angry enough about this, or at least is interested enough in doing some high-profile posturing, that he's willing to undermine America's military readiness. The impact probably isn't huge, since the country's active-duty officers are pros, but it's not zero, either.

What enables Tuberville to get away with this is, in effect, the vast size of America's military. When the fellows who created the U.S. government decided that the Senate had to approve high-ranking officers, the armed forces numbered less than 10,000 people, with only a small fraction of those (perhaps 100) requiring Senate attention. Now, the number of officers is in the thousands. The Army alone, just to take one branch, has 15 full generals, 42 lieutenant generals, 101 major generals, 111 brigadier generals, 3,687 colonels and 8,696 lieutenant colonels. That's 12,652 people who had to be confirmed to their current rank. Add in the appointments to key commands (e.g., Joint Chiefs, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, etc.), plus the other five branches, and the Senate has to approve thousands of military appointments and promotions each year.

Since the Senate cannot plausibly give serious attention to that many military officers (not to mention all the civilian appointments), the workaround is that the majority leader brings up one, or ten, or fifty names for confirmation, and asks for unanimous consent. As long as nobody objects, the promotion is approved, and the Senate can polish off dozens or even hundreds of approvals in a single day. After all, they know the candidate has already been vetted by their branch, not to mention by 15-35 years of military service. But if a single member objects, as Tuberville is doing, then the confirmation has to go through regular order. That means multiple hours for each candidate, including debate and a roll-call vote of all the senators. Multiply that by 250 or so (the number of backlogged promotions), and the Senate might well end up spending all of its working time between now and the next election if they tried to do it that way.

Of course, it is entirely possible to pick a few key appointments (say, Joint Chiefs) and just do those through normal order. Those ultra-high-ranked postings are probably worth a few days' of the Senate's time. However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) doesn't want to do that because it effectively lets Tuberville off the hook. To the extent that there's pressure on the Senator from Alabama, it's because he's mucking around with the highest ranks of the armed forces. If Schumer takes up all the really big promotions and handles them through normal order, then all Tuberville would be doing is keeping a bunch of lieutenant colonels from becoming colonels. And that would cause the various folks, including people in the Department of Defense, and many of Tuberville's Republican colleagues, to stop twisting his arm. Schumer wants all the arm-twisting possible.

And note that while Tuberville is currently the guiltiest senator, when it comes to this particular trick, he's not the only one. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) likes what he's seeing, and is threatening to block any new Department of Justice confirmations until the Biden administration ends its "persecution" of Donald Trump. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) won't let any environment-related appointments go through until the White House gets less aggressive about climate change. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is blocking health-related positions until he sees a plan for reducing drug prices that he likes.

Needless to say, it was never the intention of the Founding Parents to allow one senator to gum up entire segments of the federal bureaucracy. Again, back in the 1780s and 1790s, they did not envision how large the government would be, and how important unanimous consent would be to keeping the machine operating. The Senate could change its rules—say, to make it much easier to invoke cloture on confirmations. The problem is that the senators want to be able to gum up the works when it suits their needs, so there's no way that 51 of them will agree to a change. And so it is that senators have an incredibly broad power that appears nowhere in the Constitution, and that the other two branches (and the lower chamber of Congress) can do nothing about. (Z)

What Is Greg Abbott Up To?

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) appears to be in some sort of perverse marathon against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), trying to keep pace in demonstrations of anti-wokeness or anti-Democraticness or anti-whatever it is.

Just this week, Abbott has added two more feathers to his anti-woke cap. First, he arranged for yet another bus full of migrants to travel from Texas to Los Angeles. There, 42 tired, scared people, including 8 children, were unceremoniously dumped. The Governor described this as "much needed relief for Texas." Let's see, 42 people, population of about 30,000,000; that's about .00014% of the population that Abbott is no longer responsible for. Phew! That was close. (We will concede, however, that those extra 42 people just might have been enough to crash Texas' electrical grid.)

In addition to the latest migrant delivery, Abbott also signed into law a measure that he had championed, a ban on transgender athletes joining women's sports teams at Texas' colleges and universities. "Women's sports are being threatened," Abbott explained. "The legacy of women's sports will be safeguarded for generations to come." Here he is celebrating his accomplishment:

Abbott looks like he just scored a touchdown

It's truly remarkable to us that someone who has undoubtedly faced challenges due to a biological fact that is not his doing (namely, his disability) could be so pleased about something like this. But what do we know?

In any case, we simply do not believe that Abbott actually thinks these things are meaningful actions undertaken to solve the problems facing Texans. He might well believe that unchecked immigration is a serious problem, but he doesn't really believe that relocating 42 people is going to address that problem. And he might well think that trans people are somehow a threat to the American way of life, or something like that, but he doesn't really believe that stopping a very few trans women from joining college sports teams is somehow a curative to that problem (especially since most college sports matchups are inter-state, and Abbott has no control over the teams at Arizona State or Missouri or Notre Dame, and exactly which athletes they bring to compete for games and matches in Texas).

In other words, this is all political theater. Of that we have no doubt. The thing we can't figure out is what particular goal Abbott has in mind. Maybe he's laying the groundwork for a fourth term, but does he really think these stunts will be remembered in 3 years, when he's next up for reelection? He's clearly taking a pass on a 2024 presidential run, and while he might run in 2028, 5 years is even longer than 3. Maybe he's thinking about a U.S. Senate run? Perhaps challenge, and knock off Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)? That makes the most sense, we suppose, but even then, it's not a great explanation. We just don't get it. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: An Overreach of Biblical Proportions

We've already written, what, four items about silly political stunts by right-wingers? Let's keep it going. We don't plan these things out, mind you; some days the post just takes on a theme all by itself.

Needless to say, as teachers, we have no patience for book bans. First of all, sometimes you have to study the bad ideas in order to understand whatever it is you're trying to understand. You can't fully grasp relativity without knowing the shortcomings of Newtonian physics. You can't truly understand the origins of the Civil War without studying Southern pro-slavery apologists. You can't appreciate the significance of Sigmund Freud without an awareness of the 19th century thinking on mental illness.

On top of the fact that "bad information" is often useful information, there's also the fact that book bans rarely accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish. All they do is give attention to a book, along with making that book "dangerous" and thus desirable. We are reminded of a movie, actually, namely The Moon Is Blue, which nobody cared about when it came out in 1953, until the city of Boston banned it for being lewd. Then, the theaters were packed in many cities (this was also the plot of an episode of M*A*S*H).

Those rather obvious observations are the basis for this item. Among the many red states that have been on a book-banning binge in the last few years is Utah. In 2022, the state's legislature forbade "pornographic or indecent" books in schools, and created a means by which parents could file a protest and have a book removed. We all know what kinds of books the legislature was intending to target, but the fact is that Utah—being a very socially conservative state—has a vast body of statutes on the subject of "Pornographic and Harmful Materials and Performances." It's Title 76, Chapter 10, Part 12 of the Utah criminal code, and it has 37 different sections.

For example, the code makes clear that "acts of masturbation, sexual intercourse, or any touching of a person's clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, if the person is a female, breast, whether alone or between members of the same or opposite sex or between humans and animals in an act of apparent or actual sexual stimulation or gratification" are considered pornographic. And, again, pornographic books are now banned in Utah schools. Well, you know what book has quite a fair bit of masturbation, sexual intercourse, and other such "deviance"? Yup, the Bible. And so, school districts in the state are now being forced to remove that particular volume from their libraries. After all, the law is the law.

There's another book that's pretty popular in Utah, and that also runs afoul of the law. That would be the Book of Mormon, which is also being challenged. We must confess that while we've read the Bible, we've only read small parts of the Book of Mormon, so we're not clear that the latter has sexual stuff. But it certainly has violence, and "vulgarity or violence" is also forbidden by Utah state law. So, presumably the Book of Mormon's gonna have to go, too.

We applaud the parents in Utah—and apparently it's the Davis School District that's ground zero for this—who are currently hoisting the Utah legislature by its own petard. We can think of no better way to underscore the point that we make above: You often need the problematic stuff in order to make the other stuff work. It's true with the Civil War, it's true in the sciences, and it's true with the Bible. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: To Give Is Better Than to Take

All right, let's now break our streak, and do an item about good work being done by Republicans. Gov. Bill Lee (R-TN) has done plenty of things that do not bring honor to him or to his office, not the least of which is supporting Donald Trump's efforts to subvert the 2020 election. But, outside of melodramas, even those who often do bad things have some redeeming qualities. And so it is with Lee, who has responded to Tennessee students' below-average reading skills by creating Governor's Early Literacy Foundation (GELF).

The basic idea is that kids have a lot of time in summer, and may not have much access to books, since they're not in school. So, partnering with the Scholastic corporation, and with musician Dolly Parton (and her Imagination Library project), the state sends regular packages of books to children, from birth through third grade, over the course of the summer. There are also public gatherings where books are read to children and a fleet of refitted "Book Buses" that bring books and other programming to underserved communities.

It is true that a setup like this could be used to propagandize, and to feed students a steady diet of books that reinforce a particular religious, social or political worldview. But the books are suggested by Scholastic and are curated by a panel of teachers, and they appear to be politically neutral. So, no Bobby Has Two Daddies, of course, but no All Christian Dogs Go to Heaven, either.

By the numbers, at least, the program has been wildly successful. It's enrolled 70% of the state's children, and has delivered a staggering 50 million books. GELF is only a few years old, so it's hard to say whether it's broadly impacted reading skills in the state, but the early returns are apparently promising. The site also has testimonials from students and parents, like this one:

We just wanted to say thank you for the Imagination Library program and the books our daughter gets every month! Her name is Lily and she is 13 months old. She loves to sit in our laps and listen to the books. We read each book several times a day! She turns the pages and points to the pictures. One of her favorites is All of Baby: Nose to Toes by Victoria Adler. ABC Look at Me by Roberta Grobel Intrater is another favorite. She really enjoys looking at the pictures of the babies. It has helped us as parents in naming the different emotions she has right now. It helps us to understand how she might be feeling and that it is hard for her to control all of these emotions right now. Again, we just wanted to say thank you for all of these wonderful books and the love of reading they are developing in our daughter!

So the lesson of the day is: Giving books to children is good, taking books away is bad.

Have a good weekend, all. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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