Chris Christie is denying that Trump is holding him hostage, which is exactly what a hostage would say.

“No, I wasn’t being held hostage,” Christie told journalists in New Jersey today, referring to his much-memed appearance at Trump’s victory press conference on Super Tuesday. “No, I wasn’t sitting up there thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’” There was no evidence of Christie blinking SOS messages to members of the press, but it sounded an awful lot like those two thoughts were at the very front of his mind. 

He tried to sell his endorsement of Trump as a pragmatic choice—“I believe he’s the best person to beat Hillary Clinton,” he said—but it hardly dispelled the impression that Christie has been acting like a guy who sold his soul and now wants it back. At the very least, he seemed to realize that his political legacy is in danger of being defined by a Vine.

June 20, 2018

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“That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do.”

Immigrant children at the Shiloh Treatment Center in Texas have been “held down and injected” with drugs that have left them incapacitated, dizzy, drowsy, and afraid, according to a report in Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. “Trump’s zero tolerance policy is creating a zombie army of children forcibly injected with medications,” the authors write.

In legal filings obtained by the investigative team, numerous psychotropic medications were allegedly given to children while in U.S. custody. Four of the six medications given to one young boy were “antipsychotics with very limited FDA-approved uses in children and adolescents.” According to court documents, children were told they would not be discharged or allowed to see their parents if they didn’t take their medications.

In the affidavits, filed in California’s District Court on April 23, children accused staff of calling them names like “son of a whore” or using violence. One teacher apparently twisted a child’s arm behind their back, which was followed by medical staff administering a shot to tranquilize the child. “I would start to feel sleepy and heavy, and like I didn’t have any strength,” the child said. “I would sleep for three or four hours and then wake up and slowly feel my strength return.”

Forensic psychiatrist Mark J. Mills, who was hired by Reveal to analyze the 420 pages of medical records and statements in the lawsuits, explained, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist here; it looks like they’re trying to control agitation and aggressive behavior with antipsychotic drugs.” He added, “The facility should not use these drugs to control behavior. That’s not what antipsychotics should be used for. That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do.”

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Will Atul Gawande bring the “Cheesecake Factory model” to Amazon’s new health care company?

Five months ago, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase announced a new health care partnership aimed at reducing costs and innovating the field without “profit-making incentives and constraints.” On Wednesday, they made their biggest, most public move yet, announcing that surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande would be heading the company. The author of four books about medicine and ethics, Gawande is an interesting choice to lead an effort overseen by Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon—a thinker, rather than a businessman. And in Gawande’s writings—particularly a 2012 New Yorker article that argued that hospitals should look to The Cheesecake Factory for inspiration—there are signs about how this new company will operate.

Gawande argued that the best way for medicine to advance—to lower costs and provide better services—would be to mimic The Cheesecake Factory, which overhauls its menu every six months. The way it works is that change is distributed quickly and evenly throughout the chain; that there is a manager responsible for overseeing every meal prepared under his watch; and that the menu is standardized, with guidelines for each and every item ordered. Gawande said that doctors should similarly embrace “chains and mass production” and largely abandon customization in favor of standardization; that there should be someone at a hospital who is responsible for administering care; and that there should be processes for quickly disseminating advancements, particularly in technology, across hospitals.

This is not, as anyone who has spent time in a hospital knows, how things are done in most places. But it’s not exactly novel either. Hospitals, like the Cleveland Clinic, have already embraced many of Gawande’s Cheesecake Factory items, and have made fixed price deals with corporations like Lowe’s and Walmart, standardizing certain procedures. Still, his choice as CEO gives us a glimpse, at last, of what the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan health care initiative will look like.

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Trump’s immigration retreat is a victory for popular resistance.

The New York Times reports that the president has come up with a make-shift solution that will end the family separation policy he created but not end the fundamental issues, which will likely be taken up by the courts. “President Trump is preparing to issue an executive order as soon as Wednesday that ends the separation of families at the border by indefinitely detaining parents and children together,” the Times writes. “Mr. Trump’s executive order would seek to get around an existing 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention — even if they are with their parents — for more than 20 days.”

The keeping of families indefinitely creates a new problem, since it will almost certainly be challenged in courts. Still, whatever problems there are with indefinite detention, Trump is surrendering on the hostage taking situation he created. Prior to this executive order, the White House was using separated children as leverage to force Democrats to sign a Trump-friendly immigration deal. Jailed children will no longer be leverage in the negotiations. 

Trump’s surrender on this point is a significant victory for popular resistance to his policies. The  family separation policy excited massive opposition, fuelled by shocking photographs of caged children and an audio recording of crying kids. On Tuesday night, Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, was hounded out of a Mexican restaurant by protesters shouting “shame!” 

Cato Institute fellow Julian Sanchez had some important caveats about the pending executive order:

The immigration battle is far from over, but it’s moving on to terrain that is far less dangerous than the whims of Trump and his advisors. 

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Pope Francis blames family separation on...populism?

In an interview with Reuters released Wednesday morning, Pope Francis criticized Donald Trump’s policy of separating migrant families, blaming it on populism. The Pope supported the criticisms of Trump made by U.S. Catholic bishops who denounced the policy as “immoral.” He also urged nations to work towards the acceptance and integration of immigrants. 

“It’s not easy, but populism is not the solution,” Francis said. He accused populists of “creating psychosis” and said that “populism does not resolve things. What resolves things is acceptance, study, prudence.”

This is not the first time the Pope has targeted populism. In a January interview he decried “populism in the European sense of the word,” which he claimed was embodied by Adolf Hitler who was “elected by his people and then he destroyed his people.”

It is important to keep in mind the Pope’s qualifying  phrase “in the European sense of the word.” In the Western hemisphere, populism has often referred to social movements seeking economic justice such the 19th century Populist Party (whose platform was mainstreamed by William Jennings Bryan), Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition or more recently the Bernie Sanders campaign. This usage is also often found in Argentina, Pope’s native country. 

Francis himself is often described as a populist, given his frequent calls for economic justice and greater lay participation in the church. But the Pope only uses the word populist in a narrow connotation, to refer to right-wing movements that exalt ethnic nationalism while portraying immigrants and elites as hostile alien forces. As Catholic World notes, the Pope is a paradoxically figure, an “anti-populist populist.”

But by adopting the stance of “anti-populist populism” the Pope is ceding an awful lot of ground to reactionary political forces. After all, why should we grant figures like Donald Trump (who received a minority of the vote) their own claim to speak for the people? As I’ve previously argued, Trump and his like-minded xenophobes are more properly seen as the voice of aggrieved privilege, not popular discontent

Migrant children are shuffled into a recently-built "tent city" in Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The mind-boggling cost of breaking up migrant families.

How much will President Donald Trump’s child separations cost taxpayers? The answer is most definitely hundreds of millions, and potentially billions. And whatever the final cost is, it will be leaps and bounds more than the price of keeping migrant families together.

A Wednesday report from NBC News found that it costs the government $775 per night for a migrant child to stay in one of the newly created tent cities for minors—about the same per-night price for a suite at the Trump Hotel in D.C. In comparison, it would cost about $298 per child per night to stay with their parents in detention centers run by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, NBC reported.

With more than 2,000 kids already separated from their families at the border, that per-night cost starts to add up. The average amount of time migrant children spend in temporary shelters is 51 days, according to government data. At $775 per night, an average stay for 2,000 would cost taxpayers about $79 million. Some officials expect the number of seized migrant children to reach 18,500 by the end of August. If that happens and NBC’s cost analysis holds true, the taxpayer bill would be about $731 million.

The Trump administration has already dedicated more than $458 million in contracts to one Texas non-profit, Southwest Key Programs Inc., to care for immigrant children. And it will likely spend much more. According to the Daily Beast, defense contractors have “advertised a flurry of jobs in recent weeks to support the infrastructure surrounding undocumented children.” Those contracts don’t just include housing and caring for children; one contractor has already earned $43 million for transporting them around, the Beast reported. In addition, thousands of separated migrant children are expected to eventually enter the foster care system, which is funded by both state and federal governments.

In April, Trump also signed a memo ordering the end of “catch and release”—a policy under which migrants are strapped with GPS-monitored ankle bracelets and released from detention while they await their court hearing. Those bracelets cost far less per day than keeping migrants in detention centers, and they’re effective; most people wearing them show up to their court date. Cost-effectiveness, however, does not appear to be the Trump administration’s priority at the moment.

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The Trump administration is jailing babies.

On Tuesday, new evidence emerged that the migrant children being separated from their parents at the border could be as young as three months old. “Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three ‘tender age’ shelters in South Texas,” The Associated Press reported. “Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.”

Aside from “tender age” shelters, the other euphemism used by government officials to describe these holding pens is “permanent unaccompanied alien children program facilities.”

The Associated Press reporting was reinforced by a statement from Agustin V. Arbulu, Executive Director of Michigan Department of Civil Rights, that very young children ensnared in the policy were being sent to Michigan. “This week, I have been in touch with various agencies and organizations working with these vulnerable children,” Arbulu wrote. “We have received reports and are very concerned that the children arriving here are much younger than those who have been transported here in the past. Some of the children are infants as young as three months of age and are completely unable to advocate for themselves.”

The two reports reinforce the fact that the Trump administration is creating a situation that is causing unfathomable and far-reaching harm.

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Corey Lewandowski’s “womp womp” moment distills Trumpian cruelty.

On Tuesday, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray told the press that a ten-year-old girl with Down syndrome was separated from her mother at the border as a result of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. Democratic Party strategist Zac Petkanas raised the case on Fox News in a debate with Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager to Donald Trump.

Lewandowski responded by going “womp, womp” and rolling his eyes.

“Did you just say ‘womp, womp’ to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome separated from her mother?” Petkanas asked. The conversation quickly devolved into chaos a the two men furiously talking over each other.

In his obdurate cruelty in sticking to the party line of the moment as well as his childish reliance on sound effects, Lewandowski became the perfect emblem of Trump’s immigration policy.

Lewandowski was fired from the Trump campaign after manhandling a reporter in 2016. But he remains a hanger on in the Trump circle, one of the cronies the president calls and relies on as a advocates on cable news. Lewandowski is also, as William Kristol of the Weekly Standard notes, a well-connected GOP consultant:

Lewandowski can’t be dismissed as a fringe figure. Rather, as in the “womp womp” moment, he’s a representative figure of the presidency and its driving impulses of gratuitous meanness.

June 19, 2018

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The New Yorker offers up a sex-drenched Incredibles 2 review.

The legendary film critic Pauline Kael once wanted to review the porn movie Deep Throat for The New Yorker. Her prudish editor William Shawn nixed the idea. The New Yorker has become a less uptight magazine now, so Kael’s successor Anthony Lane is not afraid to let readers know that the children’s cartoon Incredibles 2 is arousing:

Take your seat at any early-evening screening of “Incredibles 2” in the coming days, listen carefully, and you may just hear a shifty sound, as of parents squirming awkwardly beside their enraptured offspring. And why, kids? Because Mommy just leaned over to Daddy and whispered, “Is it just me, or does Mrs. Incredible kind of look like Anastasia in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’? You know, the girl in the Red Room, with the whips and all?” And Daddy just rested his cooling soda firmly in his lap and, like Mr. Incredible, tried very hard to think of algebra. As for how Daddy will react later on, during the scene in which Helen and the husky-voiced Evelyn unwind and simply talk, woman to woman, I hate to think, but watch out for flying popcorn.

To be fair, Lane is trying, however ineptly, to make a decent point. Comic book art has gotten porn-y in the last two decades, something reflected in the impossible fantasy anatomy given to the women in Incredibles 2.

Still, Twitter had a field day with Lane’s comments:

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How much credit should we give Trump for not annexing Austria?

On Monday night, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the comparisons some lawmakers were drawing between the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border and Nazi Germany’s treatment of minorities. “It’s a real exaggeration,” Sessions responded. “In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country but this is a serious matter.” Sessions was wrong on his own terms, as Ezra Klein of Vox noted.

“In October 1938, before the Nazis had developed the plan for the Holocaust, the German government expelled roughly 17,000 Jews with Polish citizenship living in Germany,” Klein wrote. “At this point, the Nazis hadn’t yet figured out what they wanted to do to their Jewish population and were exploring mass expulsions as an option.” Nazi deportation policy involved breaking up families.

But beyond the historical error, the striking thing about Sessions’s defense was how narrowly it was cast. Whether they are appropriate or not, Nazi analogies rest on broad similarities of motive (racism) and practice (cruelty) rather than detailed concerns about specific tactics.

But Sessions is far from alone in basing the defense of President Donald Trump’s actions on a niggling argument about specific details. “President Trump is not gassing children!” radio host Todd Starnes argued on Tuesday. “President Trump is not loading up train cars with illegal alien children and sending them to the death camps.”

The implicit argument here is that if Trump doesn’t mirror Nazi Germany in every detail, there is no analogy to be made. The next step is to give Trump credit for not invading Poland or trying to commit full-scale genocide against Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe.

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Meanwhile, Trump’s cabinet is corruption central.

Amid the furor over the family separation policy, new scandals continue surface about President Donald Trump’s cabinet. These stories deserve to be flagged lest they get lost in the avalanche of breaking news that defines the Trump era.

Forbes reports that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, despite promising to divest his holdings continued to in 2017 to have stake “in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating. It’s hard to imagine a more radioactive portfolio for a cabinet member.”

Even more remarkably, upon getting word of Forbes investigation, Ross shorted a stock that was likely to sink in value once the report went public. In effect, Ross used pending news of his own dubious investments as an opportunity for insider trading.

Nor is Ross the only cabinet member under a cloud of suspicion. Politico reports that a “foundation established by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and headed by his wife is playing a key role in a real-estate deal backed by the chairman of Halliburton, the oil-services giant that stands to benefit from any of the Interior Department’s decisions to open public lands for oil exploration or change standards for drilling.”

Ross and Zinke join the growing list of White House officials, including the President and members of his family, who deserve to be investigated for financial impropriety. Unfortunately, as long as the Republicans control Congress, such investigations are not on the table.