Issue #53: Dec 2–Dec 8, 2018

In this week’s issue of MRN, we: (1) explain why loving your enemies is the best revenge; (2) unveil our new non-business model; (3) laud a journalist who made an online citizen’s arrest; (4) summarize a pretty eventful week in pretty few words; and (5) provide background links on things ranging from AI to PETA to #MeToo to the difference between “philosophical pessimism” and Buddhism.

–Robert Wright

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High Barr: Trump nominated William Barr, who served as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, to return to that position. Barr, a respected figure in the legal establishment, defended Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and has long held a broad view of presidential power, which could incline him to limit the leeway of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Chinese company punished for (allegedly) not punishing Iran: The CFO of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei was arrested in Canada and faces extradition to the US, where she is accused of fraud in connection with Huawei’s alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran. This new source of US-Chinese tension roiled financial markets, which had risen earlier in the week on news that the two countries had declared a truce in their trade war.

New rules for Wisconsin’s new governor: In an unusual lame-duck session, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin state legislature passed bills that would limit the power of the governor, increase the power of the legislature, and limit early voting. Republicans have controlled both the legislature and the governorship (under Scott Walker) for eight years and will continue to control the legislature under the new Democratic governor.

Mueller watch: A batch of anxiously awaited filings from Special Counsel Mueller and prosecutors in New York failed to reveal significant new evidence of collusion or conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. Prosecutors did allege, for the first time, something former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had already said: that Trump directed him to pay hush money to former Trump paramours, apparently in violation of campaign finance laws.

Ballot fraud? Democrats in Congress sought an emergency hearing about a still-unresolved election in a North Carolina congressional district where the Republican candidate leads the Democrat by 905 votes. Associates of the Republican candidate allegedly went house to house collecting absentee ballots from voters and then discarded those supporting the Democrat.

Yemen peace talks: The warring sides in Yemen gathered for UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden. The UN Special Envoy announced a prisoner-swap deal that could reunite tens of thousands of families.

Nauert new Nikki? Trump nominated Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, to succeed Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations. Before joining the Trump administration, Nauert was an anchor on Fox and Friends.

Kelly out: John F. Kelly will vacate his position as Trump’s chief of staff by the end of the year, Trump announced.

Guilty: James Fields Jr. was found guilty of murdering Heather Heyer, whom he killed by driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Serially evasive sexual predator: Florida Democrats in Congress called for an investigation into the 2007 plea deal—orchestrated by current Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who was then a federal prosecutor— that let billionaire Jeffrey Epstein off with a light sentence after he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls. A settlement reached by Epstein on Tuesday ended a civil case that would have given his accusers their first chance to testify in open court.

Bird is not the word: The administration detailed its plan to reduce the legal protections afforded the sage grouse, thus opening nine million acres of western land to drilling and mining. Environmentalists have lobbied unsuccessfully to put the sage grouse on the endangered species list.


by Robert Wright

Love your enemies—it drives them crazy: People often quote the Apostle Paul saying, in his letter to the Romans, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” People less often quote what Paul says next: “For by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

This passage came to mind after I read an email from Heidi, an MRN subscriber who is doing her best to transcend anger and hatred.  

Heidi writes, “I volunteer, politically & socially, but I feel like possibly the biggest contribution I’m making right now is a commitment to be 100% positive online…  I don’t mean I don’t express sadness at events, but I’ve drawn a red line for myself so that I don’t either put out, or pass on, material that is angry, or even snide. I try to encourage and congratulate others, so it’s more than just an absence of negative, but just not spreading nastiness feels like a huge thing right now.”

But Heidi has a friend who tells her that “playing nice” is just “rolling over,” and Heidi has nagging doubts that “maybe my friend is right and I’m simply ceding ground out of cowardice to people who have no problem being angry.”

There are definitely times when skillfully channeled anger does some good. In fact, there are times when unskillfully channeled anger winds up doing some good. Still, it’s worth remembering that transcending anger and hatred isn’t just a mushy moral or spiritual ideal. Sometimes it’s a smart tactic, a way to thwart your enemy’s aims. Though scholars differ over the exact interpretation of Paul’s “burning coals” line, the basic idea seems to be that, as a practical matter, reciprocating antagonism usually isn’t the best way to fight it. Paul’s next sentence is, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” He’s offering a path not just to goodness but to victory—much as the Buddha was when he said, “Hostilities aren’t stilled through hostility… Hostilities are stilled through non-hostility.”

Again, whether this strategy works depends on your situation and your adversary. But when your adversary is a president who loves to be able to tell his supporters that you hate him, and hate them, and loves to depict you and your allies as dangerously uncivil extremists, then defying those stereotypes may indeed be a way to heap burning coals on his head. (And I commend Heidi—who says she thinks we should “impeach with compassion”—for presumably not taking any pleasure in that image.)  

By the way, Paul’s observation wasn’t original. He was quoting almost word for word—and intentionally referencing—a verse from the book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. And Proverbs, I would emphasize, is categorized as part of the “wisdom literature.”

Newsletter unveils non-business model: MRN reader Spencer wrote in last week to ask: “How can I better support your initiatives like this newsletter and your video blog, which I routinely enjoy on my way to work?”

Excellent timing, Spencer! As it happens, MRN is only weeks away from establishing a presence on Patreon, the crowdfunding platform that has become a way for podcasters, writers, artists, and various other business-model-challenged people to make a living. We’re setting our sights high: we plan to do even better on Patreon than Milo Yiannopoulos has done(though, realistically, not as well as Jordan Peterson, let alone the Chapo Trap House podcast).

Supporting a content creator on Patreon is kind of like supporting your local public radio station: you don’t have to do it to get access to the content, but doing it gives you a warm feeling in your heart (which is a good thing, btw). And often on Patreon there’s some bonus content that’s available only to supporters (Chapo Trap House offers “premium” podcasts for people who pledge $5 per month); or, if not bonus content, bonus something (Milo said that top-tier supporters—$750 a month!—would be graced by his presence at dinner once a year).   

If you have any ideas about what kinds of bonus content, or bonus something, we might offer, feel free to email us with suggestions. Example: for $5 a month, we could guarantee that Milo won’t show up at your house for dinner. 

And while you’re at it, feel free to weigh in about non-bonus content. In other words, let us know what you’d like to see more of in the newsletter, or less of in the newsletter—what kind of newsletter would inspire you to rush to Patreon and shower us with largesse without even checking to see what bonus content that entailed! As always, you’ll find us at:

Citizen’s arrest: This week our less-than-weekly Citizen of the Week award goes to journalist Jeremy Schulman. Though left-leaning, and no fan of the Trump administration, Schulman protested the unfair treatment of Heather Nauert, Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to the UN. What’s more, Schulman’s target was the mighty Washington Post, whereas Schulman works for mere Mother Jones—which means that Schulman was speaking truth to power and therefore was making the normative equivalent of a citizen’s arrest, and thus may deserve a place in the annalsof great citizen’s arrests.

Here’s the background: A Post headline had said that Nauert “cited D-Day as the height of U.S.-German relations”—which would evince a less than thorough mastery of history, since D-Day was the day American troops invaded Germany! But Nauert hadn’t actually said that. Speaking impromptu, she had said something that was at worst ambiguous and probably was intended to mean that US-German relations have improved over the past 74 years. Post reporter Isaac Stanley-Becker cast her remarks in just about the worst possible light, after which whoever wrote the headline over his piece cast them in the actual worst possible light (perhaps inspired by the sarcastic wording of a tweet the piece had linked to).

This egregiously bad journalism would be about 50 percent less lamentable if it hadn’t been, predictably, picked up by right wing media as evidence of mainstream media dishonesty. In other words, next time Trump calls the “fake news media” the “enemy of the people,” he’ll have a bit more fake news his supporters can point to, which means Trump’s authoritarian leanings will have gotten a bit more support.  

The Washington Post’s famously grandiose motto, adopted early in the Trump administration as a clear reference to Trump, is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Well, chasing tribal traffic with clickbait stories and headlines isn’t exactly illuminating.


In the Atlantic and National Review, Ken White and David French, respectively, argue that this week’s Mueller-related filings, though lacking clear evidence of collusion, are ominous for Trump. Four analysts writing in Lawfare are more guarded.

The Washington Post examines the alleged voter fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Leslie McCrae Dowless, the local GOP operative suspected of tricking voters into giving his staff their absentee ballots, “was convicted of fraud, perjury and passing a worthless check in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

Associated Press reports on a bipartisan array of figures who have asked Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s outgoing Republican governor, to veto controversial bills that would constrain his Democratic successor.

Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick argues that a change in Facebook’s algorithm helped fuel the Yellow Jacket protests in France.

In Politico, Jack Shafer says the demise of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard (which reports this week suggested may be imminent) would reflect both the dwindling audience of Never Trumpers and the motivations of the magazine’s billionaire funder, Philip Anschutz.

In Bloomberg Opinion, James Gibney critiques Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent critique of supposedly rampant multilateralism.

Science writer Ed Yong says the work of Chinese researcher He Jiankui, who last week claimed to have helped produce genetically altered babies, “was full of technical errors and ethical blunders.”

Surveys conducted by the International Rescue Committee show that 75 percent of Americans oppose US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In the American Conservative, Ben Freeman reports that 30 of the 37 senators who voted against advancing a bill to end funding for Saudi-led attacks in Yemen got campaign contributions from lobbying firms working for the Saudis.

Journalist Ken Klippenstein reports that Trump’s cuts to humanitarian aid for Gaza were seen as so potentially destabilizing by Israeli military officials that they privately urged the administration to back down.

Reuters reports that Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, has pledged to cut its carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Container ships carry about 80% of global trade.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) this week urged people to expand their social justice horizons by removing “speciesism” from their daily language. Suggestions include replacing “killing two birds with one stone” with “feeding two birds with one scone.”


In the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor writes about Francis Fukuyama’s reconsideration of his famous “End of History” thesis in light of recent tensions between globalization and democracy.

In the Atlantic, Elizabeth Goitein details the powers that would be available to Trump if he declared a state of emergency.

In Medium, Aaron Gell reports on a new subculture whose members are reminiscent of Civil War re-enactors—except that instead of enacting America’s last civil war, they enact its next one, playing elaborate war games with military-like vehicles and BB guns that resemble assault rifles.

In the New York Times, four reporters do a deep dive into how Saudis cultivated a friendship between Jared Kushner and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a path to influence within the Trump administration.

Just Security issues the November edition of its monthly report on norms violations by the Trump administration. In a piece published after the 2016 election, Seth Masket reflected on norms the Trump campaign violated on the way to victory.

Bloomberg reports that Wall Street is reacting to #MeToo with a new ethos of “avoiding women at all costs”—and that the financial industry will likely become even more of a boys’ club as a result.

As the AI Now Institute published a report calling for greater government oversight of artificial intelligence, Microsoft’s president urged technology companies to adopt a code of conduct for facial recognition software.

The Carnegie Moscow Center explores why many Russians deny their country’s interference in other nations’ affairs when asked by pollsters but express a different view in follow-up conversations.

The Washington Post gives a historical overview of lame duck sessions, how they came about, and why complaining about them is almost an American pastime.

Buzzfeed reports that before the pre-election migrant caravan headed north from Honduras, someone used a fake Facebook account to impersonate a well known Honduran activist and encouraged people to join the assemblage.

In Aeon, cognitive neuroscientist Christian Jarrett reflects on 10 less-than-inspiring findings about human psychology. In one study, 67% of male participants and 25% of female participants opted to give themselves unpleasant electric shocks rather than spend 15 minutes in quiet contemplation.

An article in Tricycle about the newly popular “philosophical pessimism” says its diagnosis of the human predicament has something in common with Buddhism but that the two diverge at the prescriptive level.


Kialo (meaning “reason” in Esperanto) is an online debate platform “powered by reason” where people weigh in on questions ranging from “Has religion been a good thing for humanity?” to “Will sex robots advance sexual liberation?” Users post pro/con reactions to a question and can then explore arguments on both sides (which are broken down into sub-arguments that are prioritized by user feedback about their persuasiveness). We haven’t spent enough time on Kialo to opine on the question “Will Kialo save humanity?”—but we’d love to hear about your experiences there.

—by Robert Wright, Aryeh Cohen-Wade, Brian Degenhart,

Nikita Petrov, Colleen Smith, & Colin Pugh

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