Why no one likes Ted Cruz, in one 30-second clip.

It’s a fascinating document. There’s the white knight persona he puts on for the camera: “I don’t get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that’ll do it every time. Donald, you’re a sniveling coward, and leave Heidi the hell alone.” Then there’s the real Cruz, a calculating, completely craven pol who can’t bring himself to say he’d oppose a Trump nomination literally five seconds after calling him a “sniveling coward.” The flip would cause whiplash if the original persona weren’t so transparently affected, which NBC News correspondent Hallie Jackson exposed with some excellent timing.

March 20, 2018

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Stormy Daniels’s polygraph test doesn’t reveal anything.

The porn actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, reportedly took a videotaped polygraph test in 2011 for Life & Style magazine when it investigated her allegations that she and Donald Trump had an affair early in his current marriage to Melania Trump, according to The Wall Street Journal. That tape is now part of her lawsuit against Trump over a $130,000 nondisclosure agreement she signed before th 2016 election.

According to the polygraph, Daniels was “truthful” in responding “yes” two questions: “Around July 2006, did you have vaginal intercourse with Donald Trump?” Around July 2006, did you have unprotected sex with Donald Trump?” The New York Daily News claimed this “shows Stormy Daniels was truthful about having ‘unprotected’ sex with Donald Trump.” NBC News reported, without skepticism, that the “Lie Detector Test Shows Stormy Daniels Truthful About Trump Affair.

But polygraph tests don’t really detect lies. As Vox’s Joseph Stromberg noted in 2014, “lie-detector” tests actually measure anxiety in the test-taker, which may (or may not) be related to whether that person is telling the truth. Accordingly, polygraph tests are inadmissible in American criminal trials and the Supreme Court determined in 1998 that there “is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable.” Both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological Association have concluded that there is little scientific research supporting the tests’ accuracy.

Thanks to its frequent appearances in popular culture, however, the device’s mystique endures. It’s certainly possible that Daniels had an extramarital affair with Trump in 2006. (If nothing else, the videotaped test from 2011 proves her version of events predates Trump’s political career.) Giving credibility to a device that hasn’t earned it isn’t the way to prove her story, though.


Trump can be personally sued in state court while he’s president.

A New York Supreme Court judge has denied President Donald Trump’s request to dismiss or delay a defamation lawsuit brought by one of the multiple women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.

Summer Zervos, a former Apprentice contestant, sued Trump in January 2017 for repeatedly describing her as a liar on the campaign trail. She told the court that she suffered emotional damage and financial losses as a result of his attacks on her reputation. Trump and his lawyers argued in December that allowing the case to proceed in New York’s courts would violate the Constitution’s supremacy clause. Placing a sitting president at the mercy of a state court would raise serious federalism concerns, they warned.

Judge Jennifer Schecter rejected that argument on Tuesday. “No one is above the law,” she wrote in an 18-page opinion. The U.S. Supreme Court previously held in the 1997 case Clinton v. Jones that a sitting president isn’t immune from civil lawsuits in federal courts pertaining to his non-official conduct; Schecter ruled that the high court’s logic applied to cases in state courts as well.

Zervos, who came forward in October 2016, alleged that in 2007 Trump “grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast” without her consent. In stump speeches, Trump described the allegations made by Zervos and others as “100 percent fabricated and made up charges” and accused the women of seeking fame or acting at the behest of the Clinton campaign.

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Jordan Peterson joins the club of macho writers who have thrown a fit over a bad review.

The New York Review of Books, which is famous for drubbing high-profile authors, was particularly harsh on Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson in a review published online on Monday. Surveying 12 Rules For Life, Peterson’s new book, critic Pankaj Mishra warned that the self-help guru “may seem the latest in a long line of eggheads pretentiously but harmlessly romancing the noble savage,” but that he draws on a tradition of writers like Carl Jung who were prone to—as the headline put it—“fascist mysticism.” Peterson, who claims to offer an example of mature masculinity that can help troubled young men, responded to the review with a fantasy of violence:

Since Peterson loves to categorize the world into Jungian archetypes (the devouring mother, the dragon-slaying hero), it’s worth noting that this tweet fits an age-old pattern: the hyper-masculine writer who is unhinged by critical words.

In 1933, Max Eastman wrote a scathing review in The New Republic of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, accusing the bullfight-loving author of “wearing false hair on his chest.” Four years later, the two met in the New York offices of their shared publisher, Scribner. “What do you mean accusing me of impotence?” Hemingway asked, before trying to beat up Eastman. The two men had to be separated by editorial staff. The same year, Hemingway assaulted the poet Wallace Stevens, twenty years his senior, for saying that Hemingway was “not a man.”

In 1971, Gore Vidal wrote a scathing essay on Norman Mailer for The New York Review of Books. “The Patriarchalists have been conditioned to think of women as, at best, breeders of sons, at worst, objects to be poked, humiliated and killed,” Vidal wrote. “There has been from Henry Miller to Norman Mailer to Charles Manson a logical progression.” Enraged, Mailer slammed his head into Vidal’s face in the dressing room of The Dick Cavett Show. Five years later, Mailer was still looking for revenge. At a dinner party, he threw a drink at Vidal before tackling him to the ground. “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer,” Vidal quipped, while still on the floor.

In 2000, the critic Dale Peck went after Stanley Crouch in The New Republic, writing that Crouch’s novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome “is a terrible novel, badly conceived, badly executed, and put forward in bad faith; reviewing it is like shooting fish in a barrel.” In 2004, still stinging from the review, Crouch confronted Peck at Tartine, a Manhattan restaurant, and slapped him.

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The Supreme Court will decide if crisis pregnancy centers can be deceptive about their services.

The Court will hear arguments today in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Beccera, which concerns the constitutionality of California’s FACT Act. That law requires crisis pregnancy centers—faith-based entities that dissuade women from obtaining abortions—to advertise the fact that they do not provide certain reproductive services. As NPR explains

The FACT Act requires unlicensed crisis pregnancy centers to post a sign or otherwise disclose to their clients in writing that the center is not a licensed medical facility and has no licensed medical provider who supervises the provision of services. The disclosure requirement extends to advertising, which anti-abortion pregnancy centers object to as an attempt to “drown out” their message.

CPCs have argued that the law violates their freedom of speech, though they have yet to persuade a court of their claim. However, CPCs frequently practice false advertising: They adopt names that resemble the names of nearby abortion providers and they generally don’t advertise the fact that they do not provide abortion services. Most don’t even provide comprehensive prenatal care. 

But Google “abortion,” and you’ll likely get a list of CPCs. A 2o14 NARAL investigation found that in 25 major cities, searching “abortion” routinely resulted in at least one ad for a crisis pregnancy center. The ads were so egregious that Google removed a number of them, as The Washington Post reported at the time.

Turn up at a CPC, and you’ll typically hear more misinformation. An NPR investigation confirmed: 

Annie Filkowski went to a clinic because it advertised free pregnancy tests. She spent hours there before learning she was not pregnant, and when she then asked a counselor to write her a birth control prescription or give her advice on which method to use, she said the counselor told her, “Birth control causes infertility and can give you cancer” and other “crazy” things.

This isn’t uncommon. CPC staffers have been caught on tape lying to clients about the medical risks of contraception and abortion. In states that enforce strict restrictions on abortion, CPCs can stall a woman until she’s out of time to legally terminate her pregnancy. Regulating their commercial speech doesn’t violate their First Amendment rights; it simply ensures truth in advertising, and in turn ensures that women can actually exercise their legal right to abortion.  

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Cambridge Analytica’s woes now extend far beyond Facebook.

The British data firm that some credit for swinging the 2016 election to Donald Trump has been under fire for the last several days, after The New York Times and the Observer revealed that it improperly used Facebook data to build extensive profiles of voters. But another front was opened up on Monday evening, when the British television station Channel 4 posted an undercover exposé of the company’s sketchy—and possibly illegal—methods.

In the 20-minute documentary, a Channel 4 fixer posing as a Sri Lankan businessman catches Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, Chief Data Officer Alex Taylor, and Managing Director Mark Turnbul boasting about the company’s influence campaign in countries around the world. They open up about their work in America, Europe, and Africa, and hint at a (non-political) campaign underway in China. They claim that they sometimes send sex workers to candidates’ houses or send operatives offering bribes to attempt to catch rivals in compromising positions. And they brag again and again about their ability to act undetected.

In one revealing moment, Turnbull explains the company’s methods to the fixer, saying, “We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again ... like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘That’s propaganda,’ because the moment you think, ‘That’s propaganda,’ the next question is, ‘Who’s put that out?’” Nix ends another conversation by saying, “We’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”

Cambridge Analytica has strenuously—and not very convincingly—denied any wrongdoing. In a statement to Channel 4, they insisted that they were only appearing to be shady in an attempt to suss out whether or not the potential client was above board or not: “We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called ‘honey-traps’ for any purpose whatsoever. ... We routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions.”

March 19, 2018

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A huge study debunks several theories for the racial wealth gap.

The Equality of Opportunity Project has published a sweeping report investigating the stubborn income gap between black and white adult men. Tracking 20 million people born between 1978 and 1983, researchers found that, for white boys, wealthy parents predict a wealthy adulthood, but the same is not true for black boys. They are much more likely to fall into poverty in adulthood. As The New York Times writes, “Black men raised in the top 1 percent—by millionaires—were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.”

Armed with reams of data, the study appears to underscore what more anecdotal evidence would suggest: that race—not class, not family structure, not education—is holding back African-American men, who are uniquely subjected to stereotypes of violence. Notably, the study found that black and white girls from similarly wealthy backgrounds earned similar incomes as adults.

In this instance, systemic racism works in a gendered way. Black boys are more likely to be disciplined in school and are more likely to be incarcerated as they age. Mass incarceration is a racialized problem, disproportionally locking up black men, pulling them from their neighborhoods through racist policing and sentencing, and ultimately disrupting the building of wealth.

The study found that results only narrowed in places with fewer displays of racial bias.

The few neighborhoods that met this standard were in areas that showed less discrimination in surveys and tests of racial bias. They mostly had low poverty rates. And, intriguingly, these pockets—including parts of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, and corners of Queens and the Bronx—were the places where many lower-income black children had fathers at home. Poor black boys did well in such places, whether their own fathers were present or not.

These findings suggest that the burden of equality does not lie on the black family, as some have suggested, but on the forces that shape neighborhoods. Boys, generally, and low-income and nonwhite kids, particularly, benefit from a mentor who is the same gender and race who understands the child’s situation and social position.

The study concludes that reducing racial bias is a must if we want to make sure black youth can escape the poverty trap. It requires an active approach lacking in current policy.

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There’s coal waste in Puerto Rico’s groundwater.

Six months after Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. island territory, 11 percent of residents still don’t have power; the poverty rate has increased from 44.3 percent to 52.3 percent; and 40 to 60 percent of small businesses have permanently closed. Now, a joint report from La Perla del Sur and the Center for Investigative Journalism has found “signs of radioactivity, in addition to traces of arsenic, chromium, selenium and molybdenum” in the groundwater surrounding a coal-fired power plant in Guayama, a southern city of 42,000 people.

We’ve called attention to this plant before. It’s owned by AES Puerto Rico and contains a five-story-tall pile of toxic coal ash, which sat uncovered during Maria’s 140-mph winds and intense rainfall. Environmental advocates worried that the storm caused ash—which contains high levels of arsenic, mercury, and chromium—to blow off the pile or seep into groundwater.

The joint report confirms those fears, revealing that a study of AES’s groundwater conducted by federal Environmental Protection Agency “shows that the ash mountain is releasing large amounts of chemicals into the groundwater,” and that the groundwater is flowing away from the power plant and toward the sea.

Since the story was published, Puerto Rico’s environmental quality board has given AES ten days to hand over all the data behind the groundwater study, threatening to fine the company $25,000 each day until it does. If AES refuses, the board said it may order the company tocease and desist” operations. But AES provides 17 percent of the island’s electricity. Does the government stop a coal company from polluting the water, or cut off power to thousands of homes? The people of Puerto Rico lose either way.

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Is there a serial bomber in Austin, Texas?

The city experienced its fourth bombing in 17 days on Sunday evening. The bomb injured two men in their twenties, and city police have asked the bomber to reach out and reveal his demands. Last night’s victims are expected to live, but the bombings have claimed two lives already: Draylen Mason, 17, and Anthony Stephan House, 39, died after package bombs were delivered to their homes. Mason’s grandmother was also injured, and a fourth person, Esperanza Herrara, was injured in a separate blast.

Mason and House are black, fueling speculation that the bombings could be the work of white supremacists. The Washington Post reports:

The first two bombs killed black people—a 39-year-old construction worker and a 17-year-old high school student—related to prominent members of Austin’s African American community who were also close personal friends. The third bomb seriously injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman, but it was addressed to a different home and apparently exploded when she was carrying it, according to two people familiar with the case.

Last night’s victims, however, are white. Police say the bomb that injured them had been placed by the side of the road, then triggered by a tripwire. It’s not certain, then, that Sunday’s bomb is linked to previous bombings, or that the injured men were even the bomb’s intended targets, but police are operating under the assumptions that all four bombs are linked until new information demonstrates otherwise.

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Congressional Republicans are failing the Mueller test.

Over the weekend, President Trump unleashed his most direct assault yet against special counsel Robert Mueller. On Saturday, one of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, called for an end to the Mueller probe—breaking with earlier statements, in which Trump’s legal team had affirmed their full cooperation with Mueller. “I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said.

And on Sunday morning, aided by the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Trump attacked the Mueller probe.

In these tweets, Trump is doing three things. First, he’s using McCabe’s firing to discredit both McCabe and former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing is presumably being looked into by Mueller—obstruction of justice is one of the most likely charges Trump could face. Second, he’s tying McCabe and Comey—dismissed as partisan and corrupt—to the Mueller probe, whose findings he is prematurely trying to discredit.

But the third thing is the most important. Trump is launching a trial balloon to congressional Republicans to see what he can get away with. Trump’s previous moves against the Russia investigation have been met with an insistence from a variety of Republicans on the Hill that any move against Mueller would be an enormously costly one for the president. But thus far, Republicans—who have increasingly made their peace with Trump since the passage of the $1.5 trillion tax bill in December—have largely been silent, suggesting that they might rally to the president if he decides to move against the special counsel.

March 16, 2018

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Can drug dealers really be executed?

The White House’s plan for fighting the opioid epidemic will propose giving the death penalty to “some drug dealers,” Politico reported Thursday. President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic proponent of the idea, and of capital punishment in general. A survey of key House Republicans by the Weekly Standard found that many of them would be receptive to Trump’s proposal, at least in theory.

It’s hard to assess whether Trump’s plan is constitutional without knowing the precise legislative text. In the 2008 case Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court effectively abolished capital punishment for crimes that don’t result in the victim’s death. However, the justices explicitly said the ruling didn’t address whether the death penalty for “crimes against the state,” which they defined as “treason, espionage, terrorism, and drug kingpin activity,” are permissible. Depending on the proposal’s scope, that last category could provide federal prosecutors with legal cover.

What’s easier to assess is the pointlessness of the endeavor. Without a dramatic change in national temperament or constitutional law, American capital punishment appears to be in terminal decline. Death sentences are now handed out mostly in a handful of counties in a handful of states. (Federal death sentences are even sparser, and the government hasn’t executed anyone since 2003.) Most of those sentences are eventually overturned on appeal. A growing share of death-row inmates whose sentences are upheld instead die of natural causes while waiting to be executed.

Trump’s proposal would be constrained by the same trends. The lengthy appeals process alone guarantees that no defendants sentenced under it would be executed during his term, or probably even under his successor. Instead, its greatest impact would be to show the system for what it is: a creaky, glacial enterprise that imposes tremendous costs, moral and otherwise, on American society and delivers virtually nothing in return.