“It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible

“Under Barr, the Department of Justice has become a political instrument for President Trump. Whether it’s misleading the public about the Mueller report or using tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters so that Trump could stage a photo op, Barr has repeatedly sacrificed the dignity of his office in order to please his boss.

If you don’t know much about Barr’s history, it’s hard to make sense of his behavior. Having already served as AG under George H.W. Bush’s administration, Barr had a solid reputation as a serious guy. When he reemerged in 2018 as Trump’s pick for attorney general, he was widely seen as a creature of the Republican establishment, and his selection was “greeted with a measure of relief” within the DOJ, according to the New York Times.

But events since have shown him to be a more than willing accomplice in Trump’s slow-motion destruction of democratic norms. Which raises the question: Why has someone like Bill Barr given himself over to an aspiring authoritarian like Trump?”

“He believes the president should be more powerful than Congress and the courts. In his mind, that’s the only thing that can keep the country safe when it is threatened by war, natural disaster, or economic collapse. He believes that is what the founders intended.”

“it’s funny watching interviews with him. He’s very measured in how he speaks, but what he is saying is very far right and deeply conservative across the board. And his actions are extraordinary, at times unprecedented, for an attorney general, from dispatching National Guard troops from multiple states all over DC, to setting up a command bunker where he oversaw all of that, to removing prosecutors and pushing for lower sentences for the president’s allies. He speaks carefully but his actions are anything but measured.”

We train police to be warriors — and then send them out to be social workers

“Police do fight crime, to be sure — but they are mainly called upon to be social workers, conflict mediators, traffic directors, mental health counselors, detailed report writers, neighborhood patrollers, and low-level law enforcers, sometimes all in the span of a single shift. In fact, the overwhelming majority of officers spend only a small fraction of their time responding to violent crime.
However, the institution of policing in America does not reflect that reality. We prepare police officers for a job we imagine them to have rather than the role they actually perform. Police are hired disproportionately from the military, trained in military-style academies that focus largely on the deployment of force and law, and equipped with lethal weapons at all times, and they operate within a culture that takes pride in warriorship, combat, and violence.

This mismatch can have troubling — even fatal — consequences.”

““When I was an officer, I got calls about dead animals, ungovernable children who refused to go to school, people who hadn’t gotten their welfare checks, adults who hadn’t heard from their elderly relatives, families who needed to be informed of a death, broken-down cars, you name it,” says Seth Stoughton, a legal scholar at the University of South Carolina and former Tallahassee police officer. “Everything that isn’t dealt with by some other institution automatically defaults to the police to take care of.””

“A 2016 national study of the training of 135,000 recruits across 664 local police academies found that, on average, officers each received 168 hours of training in firearm skills, self-defense, and use of force out of 840 total hours. Another 42 hours were spent on criminal investigations, 38 on operating an emergency vehicle, 86 on legal education aimed primarily at force amendment law, and hundreds more on basic operations and self-improvement. Topics like domestic violence (13 hours), mental illness (10 hours), and mediation and conflict management (9 hours) received a fraction of trainee time. Others, like homelessness and substance abuse, were so rare they didn’t make the data set.

Those averages mask an even more worrying reality. Almost half of American police academies utilize what is called the “military model” of instruction — a high-stress, physically and psychologically excruciating approach traditionally used to train soldiers for battle. Another third use a hybrid approach that draws heavily on the military model.”

“Despite the fact that American police deal with a vast array of different situations, they are equipped with the exact same tools for each one: handcuffs and a firearm. Increasingly, that tool basket also includes assault rifles, camouflage, and armored vehicles, even for routine tasks.

The structure of police agencies, too, reflects a commitment to force. Glance at the organization chart of any major police department and you’ll see specialized departments like SWAT, bomb squad, narcotics, vice, street crimes, gang unit, criminal intelligence, and counterterrorism. What you won’t see, with a handful of exceptions, are departments focused on conflict mediation or social work.”

“Crime fighting and deployment of force are also culturally valorized. Take the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s “Police Officer of the Year” award, which “symbolizes the highest level of achievement among police officers,” and selects those who can stand as models for the profession — it’s a big deal in the policing world. In the 30-year period from 1986 to 2015, 25 recipients of the award were honored for actions they took in combat conditions while under attack.

Or just look up any police department recruitment video, where you’re likely to see police officers battering down doors, firing assault rifles, engaging in high-speed freeway chases, and running after suspects through alleyways — sometimes with a few brief shots of community outreach sprinkled in.

As for in-person recruiting efforts, police agencies concentrate primarily on military bases and, to a lesser degree, sports facilities and private security companies. The result is that military veterans — who are more likely to generate excessive force complaints and be involved in unjustified police shootings than non-military cops — represent almost 20 percent of police officers despite being just six percent of the US population. Men more generally make up almost 90 percent of all police officers; they are considerably more likely to use force and aggressive tactics than female officers.”

“Police officers are functionally generalists responsible for dealing with a vast array of our society’s most sensitive situations; yet we’ve recruited, hired, trained, equipped, and deployed them to be specialists in force. And we’ve done it all using an often disproportionately white police force with a well-documented racial bias problem entering Black and brown communities that historically distrust the police.

Would it surprise anyone if this occasionally resulted in unnecessary violence?”

“Police killings of unarmed civilians in the United States are magnitudes higher than those in peer countries. Using 2015 data, Franklin Zimring, a UC Berkeley criminologist and author of When Police Kill, calculates that the chance of an unarmed civilian being killed by police in the US is three times higher than the chance of any civilian, armed or unarmed, being killed by police in Germany and more than 10 times higher than in the UK (and that’s using a very conservative estimate of unarmed shootings in the US).”

“When it comes to addressing the mismatch between the nature of our police forces and the roles we ask them to perform, there are two broad paths that stand out.

The first is to transform our police forces — to change how officers are recruited, hired, trained, and equipped to meet the actual demands of their role.”

“second approach: to transform how we address public safety such that police play a smaller, more targeted role altogether. This would involve communities designating a certain subset of current police duties that don’t require armed police response, delegating those responsibilities — along with requisite funding — to an institution that could better handle the issue, and designing systems for service delivery (like a 911 call diversion program) and coordination (like a silent alert system that unarmed first responders could use to quickly summon police backup).

Models for this approach have been implemented successfully in some places in the US and across the globe. In the UK, certain traffic functions have been designated to unarmed, non-police public servants. In cities across the US, “violence interruption” programs run by community nonprofits have been largely successful in mediating conflict and reducing violence. The much-applauded Cahoots program in Eugene, Oregon, sends a team of unarmed crisis specialists to address many non-criminal 911 calls without having to involve police.”

““There is no single, definitive answer to what will work in a given place,” Megan Quattlebaum, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, tells me. “Anything we do is going to be in the space of experimentation with different models.””

A federal judge blocked Trump’s rule creating a wealth test for immigrants

“The rule is only one of several policies the Trump administration has pursued to dramatically shift which immigrants are legally able to come to the United States. Under Trump, the legal immigration system increasingly rewards skills and wealth over family ties to the US, while shutting out a growing number of people from low-income backgrounds. (Though he has even imposed restrictions on skilled immigrants amid the pandemic.)

Heeding calls from 31 states to end refugee admissions from Syria, Trump has slashed the total number of refugees the US accepts annually to just 18,000 this year, the fewest in history and down from a cap of 110,000 just two years ago.

He’s placed restrictions on the citizens of many Muslim-majority and African countries. His travel ban prevents citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea from obtaining any kind of visa allowing them to enter the US. He also added restrictions on immigrants from six additional countries: Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania.”

“With the public charge regulation, Trump is painting immigrants as abusing public benefits. But they are actually “less likely to consume welfare benefits and, when they do, they generally consume a lower dollar value of benefits than native-born Americans,” according to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
In 2016, the average per capita value of public benefits consumed by immigrants was $3,718, as compared to $6,081 among native-born Americans. Noncitizens were slightly more likely to get cash assistance, SNAP benefits, and Medicaid, but far less likely to use Medicare and Social Security.

“The rhetoric around the use of public benefits programs is largely smoke and mirrors,” Erin Quinn, a senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told Vox. “It’s feeding a rhetoric that immigrants are draining our public services when in fact these immigrants don’t even have access to those services and also galvanizing fear in immigrant communities.””

America’s democracy is failing. Here’s why.

“Let’s start with a plausible scenario that could play out in the 2020 election.

Democrats win the popular vote by an even wider margin than Hillary Clinton’s nearly 3 million vote lead in 2016, running up the score in solid blue states and closing most of the gap in large red states like Texas. Pennsylvania and Michigan return to the Democratic fold, but Trump ekes out the narrowest of victories in Wisconsin. He walks away with exactly 270 electoral votes and the presidency.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have a strong year, but not nearly as strong as 2018. Democratic candidates win every congressional district where Hillary Clinton prevailed in 2016, plus every district where Clinton lost by less than 3 percentage points. Democratic House candidates win the total popular vote by a few percentage points, but it’s not enough. Despite her party’s popular vote victory, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is once again demoted to minority leader.

n the Senate, Democrats pick up seats in Colorado and Maine, but they never really have a shot at replicating Sen. Doug Jones’s fluke win in Alabama. Republicans end up with a 52-seat majority in the Senate — and, with it, the ability to keep filling the courts up with Trump judges. Although the Democratic “minority” would represent about 17 million more people than the Republican “majority” in this scenario, Mitch McConnell still controls the Senate.

Solid majorities of the nation, in other words, could vote for a Democratic White House, a Democratic House, and a Democratic Senate, and yet Republicans could gain control of all three.

The system is rigged. It was rigged from the outset, quite intentionally, to favor small states. Under current political coalitions, that’s become an enormous advantage for Republicans. The country’s framers obviously could not have known that they were creating a system that would give Donald Trump’s party an unfair advantage over Hillary Clinton’s party more than two centuries later. But they did create a system that favors small states over large states.

That means that a political coalition that is largely powered by voters in dense, urban areas — like, say, modern-day Democrats — are at a terrible disadvantage under this constitutional arrangement. (And, to be clear, the system would be just as anti-democratic if it put Republicans at a disadvantage instead.)

Republicans, meanwhile, take their unfair advantage and build on it by gerrymandering the states they control, using their Senate “majority” to fill the courts with Republican judges, and then using their control of the judiciary to bolster their own party’s chances in elections.

This is how United States now finds itself barreling toward a legitimacy crisis.”

“more than half of the US population lives in just nine states. That means that much of the nation is represented by only 18 senators. Less than half of the population controls about 82 percent of the Senate.”

“Republicans owe their majority in the Senate as a whole to their crushing 29-21 lead in the least populous half of the states. Those small states tend to be dominated by white voters who are increasingly likely to identify with the Republican Party.”

“The Founding Fathers came together at Philadelphia to achieve union at nearly any cost, because they wanted to avoid the persistent warfare that plagued Europe. Without a union, Amar says, “each nation-state might well raise an army, ostensibly to protect itself against Indians or Europeans, but also perhaps to awe its neighbors.”

Nor was this merely a hypothetical concern. When large states proposed a fair legislature, where each state would be given seats proportional to its population, Delaware delegate Gunning Bedford literally threatened that his state would make war on its neighbors. “The large states dare not dissolve the Confederation,” Bedford insisted, or else “the small states will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith.”

This is why we have a Senate: In a negotiation among 13 sovereign nations, each of these nations may demand equality as the price of union. Whatever the wisdom of this devil’s bargain in 1787, America is a very different place today. There is little risk that Utah will make war on Colorado, or that New Hampshire will invade Vermont.

Instead, we are heading toward a future where — barring some kind of major partisan realignment — the Senate will routinely feature a majority that represents far less than half of the nation as a whole. In the current Senate, the Republican “majority” represents about 15 million fewer people than the Democratic “minority.” And if current trends continue, the Republican advantage is likely to grow.”

“The Senate does not simply give extra representation to small states, it gives the biggest advantage to states with large populations of white, non-college-educated voters — the very demographic that is trending rapidly toward the GOP.”

“Two years ago, Neil Gorsuch made history, becoming the first member of the Supreme Court in American history to be nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and confirmed by a bloc of senators who represent less than half of the country. The second was Brett Kavanaugh.

Similarly, Senate malapportionment also allowed Republicans to hold the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat open until Trump could fill it. When Scalia died in 2016, Republicans had a 54-46 majority in the Senate, despite the fact that Democratic senators represented about 20 million more people than Republicans in 2016.”

“The best case for the Electoral College was offered by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. The choice of a president, Hamilton wrote, “should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.” Such a process, Hamilton assured us, “affords a moral certainty” that “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.””

“the Electoral College is not capable of achieving Hamilton’s stated goal. The people who make up the Electoral College are rarely “men most capable of analyzing” who would be an excellent president. They are typically partisan loyalists, selected by their party to perform one and only one task — robotically voting for whoever the party nominated to be president.”

“Thanks to the Electoral College, candidates focus almost exclusively on a handful of swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Michigan, while solid red states and solid blue states are largely ignored.”

“The United States Constitution, according to University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson, “is the most difficult to amend or update of any constitution currently existing in the world today.” It takes three-quarters of the states to ratify constitutional amendments — which means that Republicans will almost certainly be able to block any attempt to remove the Constitution’s anti-democratic features.”

“Realistically, the most democratic solutions, such as abolishing the Senate or replacing it with a body that fairly represents all Americans, are off the table in a nation that cannot amend its Constitution. And so we’re likely left with our undemocratic system for a long while, pushing for reform when and where possible, but likely unable to fix the system absent a major political realignment”

Scientists have backed away from the worst-case climate scenario — and the best one too

“A team of 25 scientists from around the world recently took a stab at answering the question of how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to carbon dioxide and came up with range of possibilities. Their results, published July 22 in Reviews of Geophysics, showed that the planet would most likely warm on average between 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 7 degrees Fahrenheit (2.6 degrees Celsius and 3.9 degrees Celsius) if atmospheric carbon dioxide were to double.

This is still a wide span, but it’s much smaller than prior estimated range of 2.7 and 9.1 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius) that had been the reigning benchmark for decades.

The new, narrower estimate for climate sensitivity has huge implications, not just for climate science, but for how humanity prepares for a warming world. It shows that the worst-case-scenario is not as dire as previously thought, but also that the best possibilities are still quite grim. In particular, it means that it will be almost impossible to hit the main target of the Paris climate agreement, limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, by chance; it will require aggressive action to reduce emissions with even less margin for delay.”

“The resulting estimate of climate sensitivity — 4.7 degrees to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (2.6 degrees Celsius and 3.9 degrees Celsius) — may seem small, but it represents a drastic shift from the world as we know it today. In an editorial in the Hill, Hausfather pointed out that during the last ice age 20,000 years ago, the planet was on average 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) cooler than today. That led to so much ice across the planet that global sea levels were 300 feet lower than they are today.”

The NYPD unit that snatched a protester off the street has been accosting people for years

““When a person is accosted by surprise, they have a natural reaction. Someone will run, they’ll fight, they’ll yank their arms away from someone who’s trying to pull them into a car,” said Kaishian. “These acts were often charged as resisting arrest or obstructions of governmental administration. So in addition to the charge for the warrant or the I-Card that was issued, even if they caught the wrong person, the person that they grabbed would be subjected to additional charges simply for responding to that terrifying situation.””

The Supreme Court just handed Trump a big victory regarding his border wall

“The case first reached the Court in late July 2019, after a lower federal court blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to transfer $2.5 billion that Congress appropriated for military pay, training, and similar personnel-related matters to wall construction. The administration claims it was allowed to do under a statute permitting the Secretary of Defense to transfer military funds “for higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements.”

But, as several lower court judges have pointed out, there’s nothing “unforeseen” about the circumstances that led Trump to build this wall. Trump’s campaigned on plans to build a border wall since 2015. In late 2018 and early 2019, Trump even shut down much of the federal government due to a disagreement over how much money should be appropriated to pay for the wall.

So Congress did not deny Trump much of the funding he sought because it failed to foresee an emergent problem that could only be solved by a border wall. It was well aware of Trump’s case for additional funding for his wall, and it rejected that case.”

Trump’s tweets about saving the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream,” explained

“An interesting lacuna to America’s mostly market-oriented economy is building houses. Most of the population lives in places where this activity is subject to a comprehensive regime of central planning, which states and which parcels of land can have houses built on them, what the minimum size of a parcel is, how many dwellings can be built on a given parcel (typically just one), how tall the building can be, how much yard space and parking there needs to be, etc.

Some of the regulation of house-building is about safety — electricity needs to be up to code and sewage needs to be able to be disposed in a responsible way. But most of it isn’t. There’s nothing unsafe about a 12-unit, four-floor apartment building — it’s just illegal to build one in most places. Building rows of houses that share exterior walls is a space-efficient and cost-effective means of creating single-family homes, but it’s illegal to build them in most places. Big, shiny condo towers only make sense in places where land is very expensive, but there are some parcels of very expensive land where it’s illegal to build them.

These rules profoundly shape the built environment in almost every American metropolitan area.”