The real national emergency

It’s not the border.  It’s guns.  Guns may not kill people.  (People kill people!!)  But people kill a lot of people.  With guns.  And here in America at absurd rates far beyond any other modern democracy.  The Post’s editorial in response to just one more crazy mass shooting:

THE TWELVE victims killed in the Virginia Beach massacre were the people who knit the sinews of a society together, who plot the course of overhead wires and underground pipes, who set the course of roadways and sidewalks. They were municipal engineers and administrators, account clerks and agents, all of them making sure in some way or another that the essential connections and pathways everyone relies on would keep functioning. One of the victims had come simply to follow the rules, and file for a permit.

That they were murdered in cold blood at their workplace on Friday afternoon is another sign that our society is not functioning properly in the face of an awful scourge. Mass shootings at schools, newspapers, concerts, nightclubs and factories have become a threat to public health and safety in the United States, an epidemic of violence resulting in hundreds of deaths every year. Would the nation’s politicians be mute and paralyzed if, say, 199 people were killed by food poisoning, a defective toy, or an automobile part malfunction? That is the number who have died in mass shootings so far this year (along with 643 nonfatal gunshot wounds), according to one group that keeps track. Sadly, sensible gun control generates headlines for a few days after each massacre, but then nothing happens. [emphasis mine]

Oh, and we sure don’t need more mass shooters deciding to use noise suppressors, which undermine a rapid response.  Of course, the NRA and friends want to make these items more readily available.

As for now, it’s back to the sadly evergreen Onion headline:

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

Quick hits

1) Finished season 2 of Fleabag last night.  So, so good.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, quite simply, absurdly talented as a writer and performer.

2) Great Sargent:

President Trump repeats the claim that the Russia investigation was a treasonous attack on his campaign so frequently that we rarely pause to note how riddled with monumental lies and absurdities it really is. We’re supposed to believe that the FBI should not have opened an investigation into a foreign attack on our political system, and that it did so only to derail Trump’s candidacy, even though it kept the conspiracy probe secret from voters.

In a new Post op-ed, former FBI director James B. Comey seeks to set the record straight by recounting what actually happened, while reminding us — with no apology — that the FBI did make its reopened investigation into Trump’s opponent known just before the election. As Comey says, Trump’s narrative is built on “dumb lies.”

But it’s what Comey did not say that should command the attention of Democrats right now. Comey concludes with this prediction, concerning Attorney General William P. Barr’s internal review of the Russia investigation’s genesis:

Go ahead, investigate the investigators, if you must. When those investigations are over, you will find the work was done appropriately and focused only on discerning the truth of very serious allegations. There was no corruption. There was no treason. There was no attempted coup. … There were just good people trying to figure out what was true, under unprecedented circumstances.

This confidence that Barr’s internal review will conclude that the investigation was legitimate seems deeply misplaced. Barr has already telegraphed that he will likely find a way to fault the handling of the probe, regardless of the facts.

Yet Democrats appear to share Comey’s confidence that this process will unfold in good faith. They don’t appear prepared for the contrary possibility — or how bad that could get for them.

2) William Barr is a very, very bad man.  Chait:

After the legal Establishment had granted him the benefit of the doubt, Attorney General William Barr has shocked his erstwhile supporters with his aggressive and frequently dishonest interventions on behalf of President Trump. The spectacle of an esteemed lawyer abetting his would-be strongman boss’s every authoritarian instinct has left Barr’s critics grasping for explanations. Some have seized on the darker threads of his history in the Reagan and Bush administrations, when he misled the public about a secret Department of Justice memo and helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal.

But Barr’s long, detailed interview with Jan Crawford suggests the rot goes much deeper than a simple mania for untrammeled Executive power. Barr has drunk deep from the Fox News worldview of Trumpian paranoia.

It is hard to convey how far over the edge Barr has gone without reading the entire interview, which lasted an hour. But a few key comments illustrate the depth of his investment in Trump’s perspective.

Barr, as he has done repeatedly, provides a deeply misleading account of what Robert Mueller found. “He did not reach a conclusion,” he says. “He provided both sides of the issue, and … his conclusion was he wasn’t exonerating the president, but he wasn’t finding a crime either.”

As Mueller stated in the report and again at his press conference, he felt bound by a policy preventing him from charging the president with a crime, or even saying the president had committed a crime. Mueller’s view is that his job vis-à-vis presidential misconduct is to describe the behavior and leave it up to Congress to decide if it’s a crime. Several hundred former federal prosecutors have stated, and Mueller clearly signaled, the actions he described in the Mueller report are crimes, or would be if the president could be charged with a crime.

3) OMG this whole Freedom Gas things is beyond insane.  Seriously, every single Republican should just be embarrassed to be a Republican.  Only satire (Alexandra Petri) could do this justice:

Do you smell that? That aroma, like many spoiled eggs congregating in a hot locker room? That is the wonderful, pleasing scent of American freedom!

statement from the Energy Department, which I am not making up because satire has been overfished and is now extinct, described natural gas as “molecules of freedom.” In the statement, Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes noted that “increasing export capacity . . . is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.”

The statement also included the profound remark from Steven Winberg, the assistant secretary for fossil energy, that he was happy “the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world.”

So inhale fearlessly! Feel free, too, to light some of that freedom on fire, if you want. Nothing says freedom like setting something dangerously ablaze. Four cheers for CH4! Whenever methane gas is released, that smell, that aroma, is — freedom. Specifically, American freedom, the best kind that there is. That is why people love to sit with me in enclosed spaces that I swiftly perfume with nothing short of Truth, Justice and the American Way, especially if my lunch has been rich in beans. It has never been so critical, as Benjamin Franklin entreated, to “fart proudly.”

4) My nuclear security friend sent me this great source on all-things Chernobyl after we were discussing the terrific HBO miniseries.

5) Good stuff from Catherine Rampell: “Trump’s narrative is nonsense. So why is the media buying it?”

Yes, Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem right now is that all anyone ever asks about is the gum-chewing.

President Trump is steadily advancing a narrative that Democrats are unable to focus on a substantive policy agenda because they’re too fixated on investigating, subpoenaing and, eventually, impeaching the president.

Or, as our victim in chief tweeted on Monday: “The Dems are getting NOTHING done in Congress! They only want a Do-Over on Mueller!”

This sort of nonsense is something we’ve come to expect from Trump. But more troubling, perhaps, is that many of us in the media have also been amplifying his false narrative…

But another plausible explanation for why so many Democrats are now talking about impeachment is that’s what we in the media, primed by Trump, ask them to talk about — often to the exclusion of other substantive issues that those Democrats are working on and that voters care about…

But, in fairness, there have been a lot of other issues — kitchen table issues, you might even say — that Democrats have also been pursuing, and to which pundits like me haven’t given sufficient time or attention. Many of the proposals are good, some are bad; but, in any case, it’s hard to argue that Democrats have been underinvesting in policy because they’re overinvesting in oversight.

6) Richard Hasen, “Robert Mueller Was Telling Nancy Pelosi to Begin Impeachment Proceedings”

Put it all together and Mueller was saying: Russia interfered in our election. Trump obstructed that investigation. Mueller’s office could have said Trump didn’t commit a crime, but did not reach that conclusion. The ball is in Congress’ court. This is as close to a call for Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings as we are likely to hear from someone as circumspect as Mueller, and it makes Pelosi’s foot-dragging not just untenable but a dereliction of her constitutional duty.

Initially, I could see reason to go along with Pelosi’s implicit argument that an impeachment inquiry against the president would be pointless if the Senate would not consider impeaching, and if public opinion was strongly against it. But the Mueller report offers substantial evidence Trump obstructed justice, and this is an impeachable offense. Members of Congress take an oath to uphold the Constitution and it is their constitutional duty to determine if Trump’s conduct merits impeachment, regardless of the political consequences. Mueller’s emphasis that this is the only way our system currently has for holding an allegedly criminal president accountable while in office points to why fulfilling that duty is more than just empty idealism. Without consequences and a full accounting of potentially criminal actions, what is to stop a criminal president from more and greater abuses of power and ultimately a breakdown of our entire legal regime?

7) Just read this article on the amazing levels of lies and bad faith regarding the Census citizenship question.  Truly, horribly appalling.  If the Supreme Court upholds this… I can’t even.

8) Well, just learned yesterday that my references to “marijuana” are “racist.”  I’m well aware of the racist origins of much of the war on drugs, including against marijuana.  But to call the word “racist”?  Enough with the over-wokeness already.

9) Michael Wear, “The Abortion Debate Is No Longer About Policy”

Abortion politics in 2019 is a morality play about what happens when one side has all the political power, yet feels culturally embattled. In this atmosphere, victories are not satisfying if they leave the other side with a foothold, a vestige of respectability. Cataclysmic discord lies ahead.

Abortion politics is no longer about policy wins, but about establishing dominance. This is why Governor Andrew Cuomo could not be satisfied with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which eliminated several restrictions on the procedure, but instead had to light up the Empire State Building pink, to declare that abortion rights were now creedal in New York. It was not just the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, but specifically the display of cultural force, that made pro-lifers feel so embattled and isolated.

This dynamic was also evident in Alabama, where the people in power hold the opposite position on abortion as their counterparts in New York and recently passed H.B. 314, a bill that virtually outlaws the procedure.

One scene from the Alabama Senate debate furnishes a quintessential example of the decline of our democracy, of the diminishment of any capacity our political process might have had to help us work through difficult issues together. During the committee markup of the bill, lawmakers passed an amendment to provide an exception for rape or incest. On May 9, as H.B. 314 was headed toward a final vote, Alabama’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth broke protocol by stripping out the amendment without making a motion or acknowledging his Democratic colleagues’ requests for a roll-call vote. Democratic State Senator Bobby Singleton shouted, “There was no motion. You didn’t even make a motion!” Ainsworth simply ignored his colleague’s interjections.

9) I so love Chris Molanphy’s Hit Parade podcast.  Inspired by his latest, I’m listening to a Phil Collins mix on youtube as I type.  Take me Home!

10) I liked Yglesias on why Mueller should testify before Congress:

But having punted the issue to the House, Mueller should now cooperate with House leaders’ desire to hear him speak live and in person.

In some kind of hyper-idealized world, that might not be necessary. The report is there in its entire 400-plus-page glory, and every American — and every member of Congress — can read at least a redacted version of it for themselves. The real world, however, is not like that, as evidenced by the fact that today’s Mueller statement was itself big news…

But the fact that Mueller said it live on camera made a difference. He publicly challenged the administration’s interpretation of events and challenged Congress to face the fact that he did not have limitless powers… [emphases mine]

It’s difficult, of course, not to sympathize with Mueller’s view that having written this all down clearly in a report and then said it should mean he shouldn’t have to say it again before Congress.

But even though Mueller is not a very political person, he’s also not a total naif. He’s held multiple Senate-confirmed positions and served as FBI director for a decade. He knows that media coverage matters to politics and that the presence or absence of video and live drama makes a difference to media coverage.

11) I loved the documentary Free Solo.  And I love this Economist blogging about it to talk about Knowledge Externalities.

12) This is so cool, “A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day”

13) Has UNC Children’s Hospital been doing children’s heart surgery when it should not have been.  Maybe.  I found this aspect particularly interesting:

The best outcomes for patients with complex heart problems correlate with hospitals that perform a high volume of surgeries — several hundred a year — studies show. But a proliferation of the surgery programs has made it difficult for many institutions, including UNC, to reach those numbers: The North Carolina hospital does about 100 to 150 a year. Lower numbers can leave surgeons and staff at some hospitals with insufficient experience and resources to achieve better results, researchers have found.

“We can do better. And it’s not that hard to do better,” said Dr. Carl Backer, former president of the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society, who practices at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “We don’t have to build new hospitals. We don’t have to build new ICUs. We just need to move patients to more appropriate centers.”

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