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Living free in the US

May 4, 2022

[Pinned to top — new posts below.]

Authoritarian movements today in many ways resemble those from history. Human psychology has not changed. The fear of the outsider and the desire to force one’s own community into some moral frame are powerful dreams, that politicians have used for centuries.

Technology marches on,  often expanding the range of individual action, in ways unknown just a few decades past. Modern drug-induced abortion is quite effective in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Dr. Jen Gunter points out that if any subsequent medical care is needed, doctors and nurses cannot distinguish it from a miscarriage. Unsurprisingly, interest in that is rising as access to surgical abortion becomes more difficult. Were I a woman, possibly fertile, living in a red state, I would act now to acquire the recommended doses of misoprostol and mifepristone. Tuck them away on the shelf in the bedroom closet next to the fire extinguisher, or in the dresser next to the passport. Just in case. However difficult acquiring those are, the task becomes more onerous when acting under a clock and unknown future circumstance. The first can be purchased south of the border without a prescription. And it is pretty effective by itself. The second is tougher to get.

TwoSuitcasesWithFinancialStatementsGroups in Mexico are trying to make it easier for American women to acquire these drugs, given the decline of liberty in this nation. Don’t wait to see how such movements go.

Some reading this might think they don’t need to prepare. Not yet. From measure of their own personal circumstance or of the political environment. Texans always can travel to Colorado or California when they want? So far. Both personal circumstance and political environment change. Sometimes with surprising suddenness. As with the fire extinguisher, the need for it can seem theoretical and remote. Until the need is urgent, and you’re glad it is there.

Don’t drift. Prepare. Aid Access provides information on acquiring those drugs. Make sure to read Dr. Gunter’s post.

Painting by Tilly Strauss.

Update: MIT Technology Review writes about medical abortion, with some discussion of how to obtain the drugs in red states. The article has a graph depicting the growth of medical abortion: 54% of US abortions in 2020 were done in that fashion.

The shifting borders of liberty

June 27, 2022

In the short time since the Dobbs ruling, I have seen quite a few people opine that all it does is move abortion politics to the state level. That view seems naive to me.

Technological and economic advances make it easier than in times past for women to find medical care outside their state and, if necessary, cross borders to get it. Even from a large state like Texas. Half of all abortions now are done medically, which requires only delivering the drugs used. Legislatures in red states will look to control their residents. Blue states will look to provide liberty to those pursuing it from there. California, Washington, and Oregon have promised to protect providers and patients, including those from other states. California already has enacted an initial law toward that purpose. Minnesota Governor Walz has signed an emergency executive order to protect women seeking abortions there, and to foil other states that pursue legal action against them. Massachusetts Governore Charlie Baker has done similarly. American women also will turn to Canada or Mexico, raising international implications.

Companies with presence in multiple states will have to thread their way through what benefits to provide employees, many of whom will not want that to depend on where their work assignments take them. Those companies will face contrary state laws. Tech companies will receive subpoenas from red state prosecutors wanting data about women who have sought information regarding reproductive services, or who have used healthcare apps that capture data related to possible pregnancy.

The conflicts outlined above will generate thousands of cases in federal courts. More, there are any number of ways that the federal government can and must directly engage this issue. How will the FDA regulate the related drugs? Will clinics on federal land provide reproductive services to federal employees in red states? Will federal agencies make allowances for employees and service members in red states to travel to blue states to seek that? How might the federal government limit (or support?) providers serving patients across state lines? Or regulate related data?

More, what controls might the federal government impose on people who would travel to another state or nation for medical care? Americans currently enjoy a broad Constitutional right to travel. Like the right to privacy, that is a consequence of several 20th c. Supreme Court decisions. It is another one of those fundamental rights not found in the Constitution by mere text search. Anyone concerned with civil liberty is right to worry how a socially conservative court might tear it down, as well as others, to give more power to red states.

There is a core flaw in thinking that this issue can be resolved by local control. That serves to resolve issues when people’s interest also is local. An easy example is casinos. Some places don’t want the negative social impact from them. Other places accept that in return for their business. Those who don’t want them generally don’t mind if the next town or state over has them. Texans aren’t much interested in telling Louisiana to nix its casinos. To each their own.

But those who want to ban abortion (and more) aren’t concerned about local effects. They are on a moral crusade. The Dobbs decision, by removing a line that had been fixed for a half century, generates thousands of new conflict points. Rather than disentangling national politics from those issues, it amplifies the importance of that. It may start a political turmoil unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes.

Poor Thomas Dobbs has his name attached to that decision, through no act of his own.

When I was young, it was easy to take for granted how much freedom we enjoyed in the US, in the last third of the 20th century. Now that I am older, I realize how fortuitous that was, and how quickly it can slip away. It still surprises me that some Latin American nations are advancing forward, even as the US regresses. The times are strange.

Update: Abortion currently is allowed in Puerto Rico. Round-trip flights from Miami are about $300.

What is the matter with Kansas?

June 23, 2022

A Republican senator is thinking about blowing up a bipartisan deal to extend school meals funding because of a Biden administration policy banning discrimination against LGBTQ students who participate in lunch programs that receive the money.

That senator is Roger Marshall, from Kansas.

Climate and motive

June 21, 2022

Punch_congo_rubber_cartoonI suspect historians a half-century from now, looking back on this generation’s political failure with regard to global warming, will highlight the role played by the Koch brothers and the Federalist Society. What is puzzling about the former is their motivation. Yes, their efforts to free their pollution from regulation likely gave a small bump in the upward trajectory of their vast wealth. But what is the marginal return on that, in personal satisfaction? Perhaps, like many modern people, they are nature blind, living so much inside, air-conditioned, that the state of what nature remains does not concern them. Perhaps they think it won’t concern their heirs. Perhaps the adulation of their employees and hangers-on make them think they will go down in history as heroes. Perhaps when money becomes the sole measure, it insulates an individual from everything else.

The cartoon depicts a wealthy despoiler from a previous century, Leopold II of Belgium, squeezing the Congo for his fortune. I suspect he was no more concerned with his contemporary critics than Charles Koch is today.

Outside in small boats

June 20, 2022

The Race to Alaska is under way, after a hiatus due to the epidemic.

Charles_Napier_Hemy_Haul_on_mainsheetThis year’s Texas 200 just finished.

I don’t know that the Race to Alaska counts as a boat raid event, since there is a nice prize — $10,000 — for the boat that takes line honors. On the other hand, it’s not what most racing sailors would view as a proper race. Such as the J/24 World Championship, coming to Corpus Christi next month.

Cheers, to all of them.

Masochistic politics

June 17, 2022

The Log Cabin Republicans once again were booted from the Texas GOP Convention. I find it quite hard to understand the thinking of someone queer how they think they align with today’s right? I fear they are soon to discover that “limited government” means limiting the federal courts, so that state government may enact all sorts of moral laws contravening personal liberty. Roe will not be the end, but the start.

“..or should have known”

June 15, 2022

Mona Charen is a conservative Catholic. She and I sit far apart on the American political map. It is a scary indicator of how strange the times are that I find myself so much praising her recent columns. Her last makes a crucial point:

Trump had so warped the people around him that there was no expectation of honesty or integrity. Did he know that the election was not stolen or did he sincerely believe that it was? What does it matter? What is sincerity in the mind of a man who lies with every exhale? Asking whether Trump knew the election was free and fair is like asking whether a komodo dragon prefers smooth jazz or hip hop. It’s a category error. .. This emphatically does not let Trump off the hook for his lies. On the contrary. His attempt to blur reality is all the more reason to substitute a different standard — and not just for Trump. In our era of curated news and information silos, we must ask not, “What did he know?” but “What was it that he knew or should have known?”

Hear, hear.

Politics Girl tries to reach (video) those who believed Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Which seems a good thing to do.

But how much should the justice system try to suss out the innermost thoughts of some Oath Keeper who tried to interrupt the electoral college? Should it matter whether he was all in for the cause, knowingly weaponizing the lies? Or that he is a complete (and completely sincere) dupe? Or that his brain was so fried from past drug use that he was just going with what his brothers said? At some point, people are responsible for the lies they propagate and act upon. Regardless of whether they were manipulative or sincere or uncaring when doing so.

What’s in your attic?

June 14, 2022

PicassoSketchDiana Picasso was going through some of her storage, when she found sketches and origami made for her mother Maya, by her grandfather Pablo, teaching Maya how to draw. I hope you have something half so interesting in your attic!

Cults and ideology

June 13, 2022

The Constitution is the lodestar claimed by the MAGA movement, and its predecessor Tea Party. So someone in the future casually reading a history of our times might be puzzled that the president they supported was the first to attempt a coup to retain power after losing an election, contrary to the Constitution and law written under it. And retaining the movement’s full support during and after that attempt.

The explanation is that they are a cult movement. Their ideas are not serious. Cultic thinking forwards  ideology as a tool to maintain group loyalty and to neutralize outside information. It is little more than a set of stock memes that get pulled out to suit. Anything that looks like social welfare is credited with causing cultural decay. Immigrants get damned whenever disease or crime are raised. The American revolution and the Third Reich are on tap in any argument over gun control. Courts and state agencies are corrupt when their decisions aren’t in the direction MAGA favors. “Communism” is trotted out as the universal perjorative. “The Constitution” is the universal ideal. They are patriots. Rallied against enemies trying to destroy America. Anyone on the right who doesn’t adhere to the cult’s current agenda is a RINO or cuckservative.

All, not much more than words in a cartoon universe. Cult leaders don’t worry that the ideology will constrain them, because that cartoon universe so easily is redrawn, the labels shifted from here to there. The first president to attempt a coup becomes a defender of the Constitution. If only you believe all sorts of nonsense that no one does, except those caught up in the cult.

Prior to 2016, mainstream Republicans distanced themselves from the cultists. That included Romney and Kasich. McCain played a bit of a dance, famously rebutting Tea Party conspiracy theories regarding Obama. But choosing Palin as his running mate. Trump turned that script on its head, playing to the cult, adopting and amplifying their conspiracy theories, making himself their leader. Honest conservatives ran the other direction. Some sooner, some later. The coup was just the last act in his attempt to spring from cult leader to national strong man.

Trump was foiled largely by Republicans who drew their own lines in the sand, regarding how much cult bullshit they would carry or abide while doing their jobs. By Republican state officials who rejected his lies about electoral fraud. By Republican legislators in swing states who refused to make end-runs around their state elections. By Trump’s own vice-president and Attorney General, who may not have stood up to him for most of his presidency, yet at the end, refused their assigned roles in the coup. And now, by two Republican congressmen helping lay bare the coup. Liz Cheney’s terse summary will go down in history:

I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

That applies to everyone who cheers Trump or carries his lies.

The best time to leave a cult is always: as soon as possible. You will know you are out when you look back and recognize its nature.

“If you’re a Republican, you can’t even lie to Congress or lie to an FBI agent”

June 7, 2022

The title quote was said by Louie Gohmert, working hard to retain his reputation as the dumbest Congressman. Despite Gosar and Greene giving him hot competition.

Tom Rice of South Carolina was one of the few House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Had the Senate convicted, the important effect of that would have been to prevent Trump from ever holding federal office. Rice now says he would support Trump. If only he apologizes. Because someone who attempted a coup clearly can be trusted with power again, if they say they are sorry.

I do feel some sympathy for ideological conservatives today. If they have integrity, they are repulsed by Trump. Those mostly are the never-Trumpers, and the late never-Trumpers, such as Kinzinger and Cheney. Who are ostracized by the MAGA cult. Rice is trying to find some middle path where he retains some of those voters, despite acting honestly regarding the coup. I suspect that path is so narrow and twisted it likely doesn’t much exist.

So far, only Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other assorted dupes in the MAGA cult have been prosecuted for crimes related to the coup. I hope the public hearings this month set the stage in a way that starts to worry the ring-leaders that criminal prosecution likely lies in their future.


June 6, 2022

Two economics professors crunch the data on America’s immigrants, and find that one reason for their success, vis-a-vis the native born, is simply that they move to where opportunity is:

What enables the children of immigrants to escape poor circumstances and move up the economic ladder? The answer we hear most often is that immigrants have a better work ethic than the US-born and that immigrant parents put more emphasis on education. We agree that the special features of immigrant families could be part of the story (although it’s hard to tell in our data). Yet when we crunched the numbers we found something surprising: immigrants tend to move to those locations in the U.S. that offer the best opportunities for upward mobility for their kids, whereas the U.S.-born are more rooted in place.

Buerkel-PoststationReading that article, it’s unclear whether they did or could suss out a statistical difference between a) moving to where opportunity lies, and b) moving to an urban center, which happens to aggregate that for many. Regardless. Young adults, at some point in their lives, often are faced with the decision of pursuing an education or a job elsewhere, tearing themselves away from where they were born and raised. The answer is: yes! Go!

And help others along the route.

The painting is “Change of horses at Italian Post Station,” by Heinrich Bürkel.