• Donald Trump Has a New Lawyer

    Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post via ZUMA

    I am awake and I just learned that Donald Trump has hired a new lawyer for his impeachment trial. His new lawyer is Ken Starr.

    I shall now eat breakfast and try to process this. brb.

  • If You Want to Cancel Student Debt, You’re Going to Need Congress

    The incredible shrinking Congress.Kevin Drum

    Luke Herrine, a PhD student at Yale University, contends that a president can cancel a great deal of student debt unilaterally. Over at Vox, Ella Nilsen tells us that Elizabeth Warren agrees:

    Her argument is that if the Education Department has the power to collect all this debt, it also has the power to stop doing so. Herrine argues that, much like the US attorney general or any prosecutor has the absolute discretion to bring or dismiss criminal charges, the US education secretary also has absolute discretion to collect student debt for 42 million Americans or cancel it.

    “It’s really just the same thing — there’s nothing unique about criminal prosecution,” Herrine told Vox in an interview. “The secretary would have that discretion and authority, rather than having to go back to Congress or appeal to the attorney general to do some of that work for them. There’s nothing on the face of the statute that limits how or for what those authorities can be used.”

    ….Warren’s campaign cited legal experts at Harvard Law School who concluded the same thing: “The power to create debt is generally understood to include the power to cancel it,” said a letter written by Eileen Connor, director of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School….The key question here is whether Congress envisioned the Higher Education Act to be used to give the education secretary such broad power in canceling more than $1 trillion worth of student debt.

    This is getting out of hand. When President Obama signed the DACA executive order, which defers deportation for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, he did so under the theory that immigration law gave an unusual amount of latitude to the executive branch. That was questionable, and it will eventually be decided by the courts, but at least it was a theory. Conversely, the notion that the executive can simply choose not to collect debt seems no more plausible than Donald Trump’s notion that he can withhold aid to Ukraine just because he feels like it.

    For starters, no, this isn’t “just the same thing” as prosecutorial discretion. That’s a longstanding prerogative at all levels of government. Unilaterally canceling debt isn’t.

    And while the power to create debt may include the power to cancel it, that’s not at issue here. The question is who gets to cancel it. Congress certainly can, but there’s no reason to think that the president can do it without clear statutory authority.

    Finally, how far do we want to take this? Can President Trump eliminate the corporate income tax by simply directing the IRS not to collect it? Could President Sanders hand out loans to renewable energy companies and then turn them into outright grants by deciding not to collect them? Once we go down this road, there’s no telling where it stops.

    Congress has the power to delegate broad authority to executive branch agencies, but while that power may be broad, it’s not infinite. It depends largely on the wording of the enabling statute. So the key question is the one at the end of the excerpt above: did Congress intend to give the education secretary power to cancel vast swaths of student debt unilaterally? I think we all know the answer to that.

  • Notre Dame Needs No Stinking Spire

    Washington Post

    The Washington Post tries to divert our attention from impeachment today with a long piece about the rebuilding of Notre Dame. The big question is whether the ugly-ass spire should be rebuilt:

    Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect of the country’s historic monuments service, said in a broadcast interview that he would resign rather than allow a modern spire — as proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron — to be built atop the cathedral’s roof. In response, Georgelin told the architect to “shut his gob.”

    ….Beginning in the mid-1220s, much of Notre Dame was remade to be more in line with contemporary architectural tastes. The two western towers were finished and a [horrid] spire was added to the crossing of the nave and transept….By the late 18th century, the original [horrid] spire was removed before it could collapse from decay….The cathedral remained without a spire until 1859, when [an even more hideous one] designed by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc was added as part of an extensive 20-year renovation.

    Hmmm. Perhaps I have let my opinion seep into this blog post? In any case, put me on Team Nothing. Rebuilding Notre Dame without the spire will improve it considerably and cost less. Now quit arguing and get to work.

    BY THE WAY: Jokes aside, the Post article is a good one if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

  • Ukraine Opens Investigations Into Ukrainegate

    Nancy Pelosi seems pretty happy to be finally signing articles of impeachment against President Trump.Michael Brochstein/ZUMA

    President Trump did his best to force Ukrainian leaders to open an investigation of Joe Biden. They never did. But today, Trump finally got his investigations:

    Ukrainian authorities announced a probe Thursday into possible surveillance of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch before she was dismissed from her post by the Trump administration. The statement by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry followed the disclosure of new documents related to the impeachment case against President Trump.

    ….In a separate probe, Ukraine investigators said they were looking into a suspected Russian hack into computers at Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which is at the center of the impeachment inquiries….Interior Minister Arsen Avakov met Thursday with an FBI representative based in Ukraine and officially requested U.S. assistance in the two cases, according to a Ukraine government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations.

    These are not the investigations Trump wanted, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

    In related news, the inspector general for the GAO says Trump broke the law by withholding aid to Ukraine last year. “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the IG wrote. “The withholding was not a programmatic delay.”

    That’s a lot of shit hitting the fan on the same day that articles of impeachment were finally transmitted to the Senate. Coincidence?

  • Parnas: Trump Knew Everything

    Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani at the funeral of George H.W. Bush in December.Alex Edelman/ZUMA

    I’ve been asleep nearly all afternoon—thanks, dex!—and upon waking up I find that Rachel Maddow is interviewing Lev Parnas, one of Rudy Giuliani’s many shadowy accomplices in the Ukraine affair. And Parnas is . . . just absolutely dumping on every single person associated with Ukrainegate. Giuliani. Trump. Bill Barr. Devin Nunes. Mike Pence. He’s implicating them all massively in the plan to extort Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation of Joe Biden. This goes along with the huge dump of text messages from Parnas and others released today by House Democrats.

    This post is just a placeholder. Parnas’s interview with Maddow has been detailed and it seemingly matches up with what we know. But I have no idea how much of it will eventually be corroborated. For now, then, all I can say is that this looks explosive, but it’s best to wait a bit before automatically believing everything Parnas has said. More later.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This little girl is sitting on her father’s shoulders and eating a pastry of some kind purchased from a local street vendor. Like me, she’s watching the glockenspielers parade around the town square of Ubaté on Battle of Boyacá Day. I think the pastry is basically a handmade version of a Pop Tart, or something like that.

    August 7, 2019 — Ubaté, Colombia
  • The “Phase One” China Trade Deal Looks Legit

    Oh look, a new trade agreement:

    President Trump on Wednesday signed a partial trade deal with China, securing a promise that Beijing will purchase specific amounts of U.S. goods and services while retaining many of the import penalties he put in place over the past two years.

    The text of the agreement is finally available, and it looks legit. It says China “shall ensure” that it purchases an additional $200 billion of American goods and services in 2020 and 2021 compared to the “2017 baseline.” That baseline doesn’t seem to be spelled out anywhere, which is probably because US and Chinese estimates of trade goods are sometimes quite different. Still, that’s only a little bit of wiggle room. If the Chinese follow through, US exports to China will look like this:

    I was skeptical that this trade deal contained clear wording about Chinese purchase commitments, but unless I’m missing something it seems to.

  • That Recent Abortion Study Is . . . Maybe Not the Final Word

    Do women who get abortions later regret their choice? Robin Abcarian writes in the LA Times today about a study that concludes otherwise:

    “Tons of studies have found that relief is the most common short-term emotion after abortion, despite mixed emotions,” said the paper’s lead author, UCSF epidemiologist Corinne Rocca. “But even after five years, when emotions are pretty low, relief is still the most common one.” She found that about 99% of women who had abortions told researchers five years later that they’d made the right decision.

    ….Some women, naturally, dropped out of the study over the five years, leading critics to suggest that these were women who felt regret, shame or guilt about having abortions. But Rocca closely analyzed who dropped out and did not find a correlation between dropouts and negative emotions. “People can make that claim,” she said, “but I didn’t find any of that.”

    This is . . . not an entirely honest summary from Abcarian. Of course people dropped out. People always drop out of longitudinal studies like this. But Abcarian doesn’t mention the real criticism of Rocca’s study: namely that it included only women who agreed to participate in the first place.¹ In other words, her sample is self-selected, not random. Rocca defends this:

    38% enrollment for a five-year study asking women about a stigmatized health service is within the range of other large-scale prospective studies. Importantly, with the exception of being poorer, women in this sample were demographically similar to US women with unintended pregnancies. Also, women experienced a range of emotions at enrollment: approximately two-thirds expressed sadness and over one-third felt some regret. We have no reason to believe that women would select into the study based on how these emotions would evolve over three years.

    It’s true that longitudinal studies, by definition, include only people who agree to be part of the study in the first place. If you’re studying some concrete physical phenomenon like lead poisoning or the effect of a new drug, that’s probably OK. But this is precisely why longitudinal studies aren’t generally useful for assessing things like emotional states, which can easily affect participation in unexpected ways. Rocca says “we have no reason to believe” that happened here, but that’s a pretty lackadaisical approach to legitimate criticism. I can think of half a dozen reasons off the top of my head why emotional states might affect participation. Maybe people who feel guilt are less likely to want to be reminded of it periodically for the next five years. Maybe introverts are less likely to participate. Maybe women with traditional upbringings are less likely to participate. Etc. This is an endless list, and “no reason to believe” mostly suggests that nobody bothered looking.

    None of this means the study’s conclusions are wrong. My own guess, based on other research, is that it’s basically correct. That said, I just don’t see how you can claim to get any kind of reliable results from an extremely non-random sample like this. This is true both for studies we agree with and those we don’t.

    ¹It’s worth noting that this is true of survey-based studies too. This is just a fundamental problem when you’re studying something like emotional responses to abortion. Lots of people probably won’t want to participate, and it’s all but impossible to know for sure if that affects the randomness of your sample.

  • “Deaths of Despair” Are Rising Only for White Women in the South

    A few days ago Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote a piece in the New York Times called “Who Killed the Knapp Family?” The Knapps grew up in Kristof’s hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, and the answer, it turns out, is working class despair:

    Of the five Knapp kids who had once been so cheery, Farlan died of liver failure from drink and drugs, Zealan burned to death in a house fire while passed out drunk, Rogena died from hepatitis linked to drug use and Nathan blew himself up cooking meth. Keylan survived partly because he spent 13 years in a state penitentiary.

    ….Even in this presidential campaign, the unraveling of working-class communities receives little attention. There is talk about the middle class, but very little about the working class; we discuss college access but not the one in seven children who don’t graduate from high school. America is like a boat that is half-capsized, but those partying above water seem oblivious.

    It’s easy to see this just by looking at income figures from the Census Bureau. The implosion of working-class prospects led to a complete stagnation of working-class incomes from 2000 to 2017. Here it is by income quintile:

    It wasn’t until 2018 that working-class families finally started earning (slightly) more than they had at the beginning of the millennium. That’s a very long drought, and in certain places that lost factories or favored industries things were far worse. Still, with that said, keep this in mind:

    I’ve posted this more than once, mainly because no one ever seems to get it: once you run the numbers correctly, death rates have gone up only for middle-aged white women in the South. Men are fine. Blacks and Hispanics are fine. The Northeast is fine. The West and Midwest are fine. Not great, but doing OK.

    That’s it. That’s all I have to say. Increased mortality rates due to despair are simply not a national phenomenon. They’ve risen significantly only for one particular demographic group, and we should stop saying otherwise.