A W A K E N

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Mueller report, 2020 election, and Theresa May gets dunked

Jonathan Chait grabs some first reactions on the Mueller report from his co-workers.
New York Magazine

Ed Kilgore: Dropping it on the weekend is a cruel confirmation of the 24/7 Trump news cycle.

Benjamin Hart,: Yes, Mueller must hate the media as much as Trump does, with this timing.

Not only did Mueller drop the report late on a Friday afternoon, but he did it while I was on a plane, wrestling with in-flight WiFi and wondering again why I’m always enough of a sucker to shell out $8 for in-flight WiFi when I know it’s going to be terrible. So I think the truth is that Mueller hates me personally.

Jon: If Congress is briefed this weekend, news should leak very soon.

Ed: Jon’s right: once any information is in congressional hands, it will be a competitive leak-a-thon.

Jon: Barr’s letter seems to indicate he’ll disclose what he can.

Barr has already skipped Saturday. Whether he’ll share anything on Sunday is an open question. But Barr’s letter does not say he’ll disclose what he can. It says he’ll disclose what he can while following all the guidelines and rules of the DOJ — which he does not have to do. Those rules give him plenty of room to hide what’s actually been discovered and send Congress an ‘all good here, nothing to see’ report.

Hamid Dabashi on why Muslims must be at the center of the fight against anti-Semitism.
al Jazzeera

On October 27, 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue at the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while Shabbat morning services were being held. He shot and killed 11 and injured another seven. The murderous act was considered the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States. The suspect, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers, was arrested and charged with dozens of federal crimes. He was a notorious racist with a history of anti-Semitic hate speech on social media.

Dabashi goes on to list a number of hate crimes committed by anti-Semitic terrorists in Europe and elsewhere, and they are uniformly as awful as you might expect. But while Dabasi, as a Muslim writer, eventually reaches the conclusion that Muslims have both an interest and an obligation in fighting anti-Semitism, he gets there by a route that American readers are unlikely to find very comfortable by first declaring that “European Christianity” it the “main culprit.” And he takes another turn that definitely represents a perspective outside what we hear from American sources.

Anti-Semitism is a horrid fact, and Zionists have turned anti-Semitism into an even more horrid false charge. The recent examples of Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, exemplify the consistent and systematic abuse of the charge of anti-Semitism levelled against anyone anywhere who dares to raise her or his voice in support of Palestinians criticising the murderous history of Zionism in the course of the occupation and theft of Palestine.

Paul Krugman hopes Democrats don’t turn the primary into a war for the best healthcare slogan.
New York Times

Whoever the Democrats nominate will profess allegiance to a progressive agenda aimed at reducing inequality, strengthening the social safety net and taking action on climate change. But there are some big differences about how to achieve those goals.

And the starkest divide involves health care. Almost surely, the eventual platform will advocate “Medicare for TK.” But what word is eventually chosen to replace the placeholder “TK,” and more important, what that means in terms of actual policy, will be crucial both for the general election and for what comes after if Democrats win.

On one side, there’s “Medicare for All,” which has come to mean the Bernie Sanders position: replacing the entire existing U.S. health insurance system with a Medicare-type program in which the government pays most medical bills directly.

On the other side, there’s “Medicare for America,” originally a proposal from the Center for American Progress, now embodied in legislation. While none of the announced Democratic candidates has endorsed this proposal yet, it’s a good guess that most of them will come around to something similar.

I confess that I haven’t read the bill and don’t understand all the implications of “Medicare for America.” So now you know my homework.

Art Cullen on the fight to keep Iowa free from the death penalty.
Storm Lake Times

Iowa incarcerates a far higher number of blacks than whites. So does Minnesota. So does nearly every state. There are far more people of color on death row than whites, and it is not because people of color are more criminally prone, and certainly not more prone than anyone else of capital offenses. Recently enacted prison reform acknowledged as much. Then how can the death penalty be fairly applied, if we have not come to terms with the fact that the justice system sometimes — and in some places, often — produces different results for people of different colors?

That is not to say that any judge or lawyer is racist, but the facts are the facts. Law enforcement authorities tell us that minorities do not commit crimes at any higher rates than whites. Yet our death rows are predominantly black.

What’s the matter with Iowa … not the death penalty. Can you say the same about your state?

Renée Graham thinks this is the time for Joe Biden to sign up Stacey Abrams.
Boston Globe

I—and more likely, when—former Vice President Joe Biden joins the scrum of Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination, he should do more than just declare his candidacy. Stacey Abrams should be introduced, at the same time, as his running mate.

There’s no indication that the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate has committed to join Biden’s possible run for the White House. Nor is there any proof that Biden has invited her to do so, though the two recently met for lunch in the nation’s capital, at Biden’s request. But when a likely candidate and an ascendant political star in his party get together, a lunch isn’t just a lunch.

That’s reason enough for speculation that Abrams will play a prominent role in helping Democratic hopes to reclaim the White House in 2020, possibly on the ticket itself.

Graham is convinced that putting Abrams on the ticket right away would help Biden face back the tide of Democratic voters who would like to see someone at the top of the ticket who looks like everyone else at the top of the ticket not named Obama. I’m not all that sure that’s the case. Personally, I’d rather flip that ticket around.

Michael Tomasky and the lie behind both Trump and Brexit.
Daily Beast

His father’s election victory and the Brexit vote, Donald Trump Jr. wrote in a British newspaper this week, were “one and the same.” He’s not kidding. They’ll both go down in history as moments of intense reactionary idiocy from which, we hope, both countries will one day make a full recovery.

But they were something more than that. They were the two great manifestations of the false consciousness of our era: that whatever has gone wrong can be blamed on liberals—or that universal bogeyman “the liberal order”—and that only conservatives can put things right.

Donald Trump Jr has also been remarkably quiet about the filing of the Mueller document. You would think news that the special counsel’s office had no more indictments in the offing would have Junior at his ignorant nadir. Someone play some theremin music, this is getting spooky.

I use the phrase “false consciousness” deliberately. Those of you who know this sort of thing know that the phrase comes to us from Marxist thought. It’s the idea that the material comforts provided by the capitalist system lulled the proletariat to sleep and prevented them from seeing their true class interests.

The false consciousness of our time is quite different—in fact, it’s very nearly the opposite. Our false consciousness is the idea that material dis-comforts can all be blamed on liberal policies that the far right can fool millions of people into thinking have held them back, rather than on the conservative, supply-side, austerity policies that have in fact held them back.

The ability of Republicans to convince people that the cure to what is killing them, is to do more of what is killing them, is one of the sick wonders of the world.

Will Bunch thinks Pete Buttigieg has what it takes … to be veep.
Philadelphia Inquirer

In machine-gun fashion over the 15-minute interview, Buttigieg told America where he stands on the Electoral College (kill it) and Medicare-for-all (yes, but phased in with an option to keep private insurance until single-payer can dominate), voiced provocative ideas for voluntary national service and a radical overhaul of the increasingly politicized and unpopular Supreme Court, and spoke about Afghanistan and Syria with a wisdom and nuance not currently seen within a stone’s throw of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The TV talking heads were blown away — host Joe Scarborough said not long after on Twitter he was “overwhelmed” by the feedback he was getting and that “[t]he only other time in 12 years that we heard from as many people about a guest was after [Barack Obama]…” — but so were a lot of regular viewers. In Oklahoma City, labor lawyer Tim Melton went online and donated $10 to Buttigieg as soon as the interview ended.

He throws off killer quotes — lambasting Vice President Mike Pence, his fellow Indianan, as “a cheerleader for the porn star presidency” at a recent CNN town hall — while satisfying the yearning for a president who actually reads books, with his riff in Esquire on whether running for president is more like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Finnegans Wake already gone viral.

It all adds up to make Buttigieg the perfect candidate…

…to be the next vice president?

I think Buttigieg is going to oblige the rest of the field to beat him before he starts considering a second chair position. And that may be harder than it seems.

Aisha Sultan on the college cheating scandal.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Remember when rich parents had the integrity to donate buckets of cash to fancy universities so their mediocre kids could get a coveted spot?

Say what you want about Jared Kushner’s convicted felon father, Charles. At least he had enough scruples to write his $2.5 million check directly to Harvard University. He didn’t try to pass off Jared as a water polo champ.

Everyone knew what was up in that exchange. Daddy Kushner knew he was putting a down-payment on a diploma. Harvard knew, and as evidenced by more recent emails, they like how this game has long been played. And Jared knew about the multi-million dollar donation.

Have any of the white kids suing universities for attempting to address centuries of racial injustice ever stopped to sue about legacy students or parents who buy their way in by buying a shiny new building? Or it easier to go on the attack when the people you’re attacking are already marginalized? Serious question. I would like to know.

Which brings us to what may be the most surprising thing in this college cheating scandal. Most of the beneficiaries of the busted rich parents allegedly had no idea they got a hefty assist getting into Yale or Stanford. Some of them actually believed their SAT scores magically rose 400 points, or they jumped from a 17 ACT to a 35. There’s a telling exchange in the 200-plus-page affidavit detailing the investigation’s findings. “Cooperating Witness 1” is explaining how the cheating scheme works to a parent and says the student won’t have any idea they didn’t earn the inflated score.

Lying to their own children isn’t just cruelty, it’s helping to create a generation who don’t just believe they’re richer, but smarter than the people who failed to get in. It’s giving them permission to be Trumps.

Nancy LeTourneau on another sort of nationalist who have made Trump their ‘savior.’
Washington Monthly

The fact that Christian nationalists have anointed the most amoral man to ever occupy the White House as their savior tells us that their allegiance to him isn’t grounded in principle, but in authoritarian power that puts them above the law. That’s the kind of political leadership they’ve been looking for.

As frequently happens, LeTourneau’s piece sites enough other sources that it’s difficult to cite without running into quotes inside of quotes. Just go read it.

Virginia Heffernan says we should all hope the Mueller report finds Trump blameless.
Los Angeles Times

Expect — as we cram into this latest waiting room — more rumors, leaks, spins, guesses and conspiracy theories. Rightwing figures such as Tucker Carlson are already flashing victory signs, while Democrats in Congress such as House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) are agitating to see the whole report, and more, from the special counsel — and he says he’ll subpoena it if he has to.

Last week, Mimi Rocah, legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, suggested on Twitter that the report should be considered a beginning and not an end to the republic’s reckoning: “Waiting for the Mueller Report is like waiting for the baby to be born. We’re in the end of the third trimester and just want it to be over. But, as every parent knows, once the baby comes – that’s when all the real work begins.”

Precisely. With just one adjustment: The gestation period of the special counsel’s findings has been nowhere near as predictable as the human kind. It took more than seven trimesters to finish the work.

Which is pretty swift baby-cooking for a special counsel, making Mueller’s investigation one of the briefest since special investigators and special counsels were put in place.

A detailed Feb. 16, 2018, indictment, signed by Mueller alone, began to lay it out: a Kremlin-linked troll farm called the Internet Research Agency hacked American social media with a pervasive disinformation campaign in a “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

The next indictment signed by Mueller alone appeared on July 13, 2018. It exposed an extensive Russian military operation against the United States, charging officers of the GRU — Russian military intelligence — with a jaw-dropping series of cyberattacks on the digital infrastructure of the Democratic Party.

These two indictments alone could constitute a Mueller report: The Internet Research Agency and the GRU attacked the U.S. to elect Trump.

But did the Kremlin do it just out of the goodness of its Trump-loving heart, expecting nothing in return? Or might Trumpworld have coordinated with Russia, so they could mutually prosper at the expense of American democracy?

I’m at the limits of what I can quote here without just shuffling over the whole thing. When that happens, it’s often because I’m reading along, agreeing with and enjoying the writing. That’s certainly this case this time. Go read the whole piece, and see if you agree with the conclusion.

Charles Pierce has thoughts on a rally with Beto O’Rourke.
Esquire

On Friday, I took in the Beto O’Rourke Experience for the first time, at an outdoor rally on the campus of the University of South Carolina. O’Rourke was making his first swing through this state, about which more anon. He bounced onto the stage in a USC ballcap, led the crowd in the traditional “Game! Cocks!” call-and-response chant. And then delivered a speech that, I believe, consisted of one single 40-minute sentence.

It took in a smattering of Spanish, a paean to the 1966 NCAA Champion Texas Western minors, the civil rights struggle both within and without O’Rourke’s native El Paso, the climate crisis, the cost of prescription drugs, student loans, and every other conceivable issue that might arise during the 2020 campaign. He spoke with the same level of passion about all of them. O’Rourke has one rhetorical setting—loud and earnest. But the most interesting part of his appearance on campus Friday was the Q-and-A session that ended it. For the first time, somebody got O’Rourke simply…to…slow…down.

That question was about contributions to his campaign and allegations that he’d violated promises by taking large amounts of funding from corporate sources. 

Pierce was impressed by how well O’Rourke handled the question, turned it around, and got voters cheering. He was less impressed by the whiteness of the crowd that came to see O’Rourke in South Carolina.

David Von Drehle doesn’t favor getting rid of the electoral college.
Washington Post

Folks have been trying to get rid of the electoral college for more than 200 years, so don’t hold your breath. In the meantime, Democrats might simply try harder to win rural votes.

A good place to start would be Storm Lake, Iowa, where Democratic candidates are invited to a forum on rural affairs March 30. At least half a dozen would-be presidents plan to attend. The rest ought to join them, because they’re likely to hear two strong themes they can use to reach farmers in 2020 and beyond.

First: Farmers want the government to defend them against encroaching monopolies among their suppliers and their main customers. The same forces of consolidation that are snuffing competition elsewhere in the economy are choking farmers, too. Rural audiences are ripe for a platform of vigorous trust-busting and strategies that put farmers at the center of the farm economy.

Yeah that’s … See “get more rural voters” makes about as much sense as advice as when my watch reminds me to “breathe.” Democrats are going to try like hell for that anyone. And while they’re at it, they’ll also work to get rid of the electoral college. Because if someone has been trying for 200 years, they’ve been awfully quiet about it.

But someone sure needs to craft a message for farmers, because Trump is utterly shredding their lives.

Dana Milbank is playing the same tune as Von Drehle.
Washington Post

Watch in slow motion as Democrats, goaded by the media, conspire to reelect President Trump:

Voters care about the economy and making education and health care affordable. And so Democrats are talking about . . . abolishing the electoral college?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) started the latest distraction at a CNN town hall on Monday. “Get rid of the electoral college,” she said, neglecting to mention that this has zero chance of occurring in the foreseeable future.

The media took it from there.

Apparently Milbank didn’t notice that Democrats are also talking about education, healthcare, and the economy. In fact, talking far more about those things that the electoral college. But sure, you tell ‘em the issues important to Democratic voters today, Dana. 

Milbank has spent the last month doing little but looking for Democrats to do something, anything, so he can bring out his “You’re doing it wrong fiddle.” I’m getting pretty damn tired of that tune.

Anne Applebaum thinks the biggest problem with Brexit, lives on Downing Street.
Washington Post

“She was dealt a bad hand.” “She took a poisoned chalice.” From a great distance, it is possible to feel sorry for British Prime Minister Theresa May. She seems so dignified. She seems to be trying so hard. The circles beneath her eyes have grown so much deeper since she became prime minister back in 2016, following the surprise result of the Brexit referendum, the resignation of her hapless predecessor, David Cameron, and an ugly leadership squabble, during which several of her male colleagues metaphorically stabbed one another in the back. Since then, she has always seemed to outsiders the sensible person in the room, the adult who knows what she is doing, the sane person in a madhouse.

Alas, she is not any of those things. She is not sensible, she does not know what she is doing, and, increasingly, she doesn’t seem to be entirely sane either. Outside of Westminster, the extent of May’s responsibility for this crisis might not be fully appreciated. But in truth, almost everything about Brexit — from the nature of the deal she negotiated to the divisions in her party and her country — is very much her fault. The latest development — European leaders have told her that the United Kingdom can have a Brexit extension until May 22, if May can get her withdrawal agreement passed in Parliament, but must crash out of all of its trading arrangements on April 12 if not — underlines this bitter truth. She is not to be pitied: She is the worst prime minister in living memory, presiding over a crisis of her own creation.

And … mike drop. This is the bluntest thing I’ve seen from Applebaum, and it stands out among an American press that seems anxious to give May a pass.

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