Presumed drunk until proven sober

The USSR also didn’t care for impaired driving – or the presumption of innocence.

I despise drunk drivers – not just because of the lives they’ve destroyed, but because I’ve had to talk to so many of them at 2 in the morning when I’m on duty counsel for the night.  Take it from me: you don’t know true frustration until you find yourself trying to explain to an indignant, barely coherent drunkard his right to remain silent but also that it’s a criminal offence to refuse a police officer’s request for a breath sample.

Most people likely feel the same way, which is why no politician – even those who otherwise doubt the efficacy of “tough on crime” policies – ever lost votes by cracking down on impaired driving.   But even when everyone is agreed that the crime is inexcusable, it’s still possible for the government to go too far in fighting it.

And recent changes to Canada’s impaired-driving laws go way too far:

Canadians could now face criminal charges for driving with illegal amounts of alcohol in their system, even if they were stone cold sober while behind the wheel, under tough new impaired driving laws passed by Parliament, according to criminal defence lawyers.

Bill C-46, which came into effect last month, gives police wide-ranging new powers to demand sobriety tests from drivers, boaters and even canoeists.

Police no longer need to have any reasonable grounds to suspect you’re impaired, or driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than .08, which is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, before demanding you submit to testing.

Refusing the test can result in a criminal charge.
But even drinking within two hours after you’ve stopped driving or boating could now get you arrested, if your BAC rises over .08.

[…]

Previously, if drivers could prove they weren’t yet over the legal limit  when they were stopped by police, a court could find them innocent.

The new law removes that defence.

“Its primary purpose is to eliminate risky behaviour associated with bolus drinking, sometimes referred to as drinking and dashing” Wilson-Raybould told Parliament.

But Brown calls the law a solution for a problem that rarely existed and claims it will “criminalize Canadians who have done nothing wrong.”

He points to number of scenarios where people park their cars with no intention of driving anytime soon, then start drinking.

If you drive yourself to a restaurant, bar or party and have a few drinks after you arrive, you can be found guilty of impaired driving. Even though you weren’t impaired when you were actually driving. I’m confident this will be struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada eventually, but many innocent people may have their lives thrown into complete turmoil in the meantime.

Last summer, the federal government made applicants for a summer-jobs program sign an attestation that its “core values” aligned with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And now this same government is trampling on the presumption of innocence, regardless of what s. 11(d) of the Charter reads.

A Liberal government picking and choosing what sections of the Charter holds sacrosanct? Shocking, I know.

How an online mob destroyed an autistic person’s life

 

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Ancient curse: “may your name become a Twitter hashtag.”

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a case of an Australian writer siccing her Twitter followers on a “creep” who turned out to have autism.  I wondered if my own son, who is on the autism spectrum, could someday find himself the target of an angry online mob.

The “Doorway Debbie” fiasco, in which the internet launched its two-minutes’ hate upon a woman with autism, does not settle my nerves:

On a midsummer day in July, Darsell Obregon ducked under an apartment building to shelter herself from the rain while waiting for an Uber. Minutes later, the front door swung open and out walked a 19-year-old girl who demanded that Obregon leave the premises immediately. The resident’s name is Arabelle Torres, a 19-year-old student at Brooklyn College who also has autism.

“I came downstairs and a woman was standing as I am right now and wouldn’t leave,” Torres, who was describing the seeds of events that led her life to change, said to me while standing outside of her home in Park Slope. What might have been an unremarkable high-strung incident that occurs hundreds of times a day in New York City, ended up becoming a fake news story that race-baited an incident without credible evidence of bigotry.

“Hey, ma’am, this is private property. Could you please move?” Torres recounts saying to Obregon, an assistant to fashion model Ashley Graham, who “just flat-out refused” to leave the premises.

“After about ten times of me saying, ‘Ma’am, go. This is private property,’ [Obregon] still refused. So I called the cops,” Torres said. “As a person with autism, I [was] scared. When somebody is blocking me from leaving … it is a big problem. And I was alone in that situation.”

As Torres dialed 911, Obregon whipped out her phone and began filming. Later that evening — Torres was at a Broadway show — the words “worthless skank” popped up on her phone. As dozens more messages poured in, she found out that Obregon had posted the exchange on social media accounts accompanied with hashtags associated with race-related events (even though Obregon is not black).

Hashtags such as #WhitePrivilege and #BBQBecky were included. BBQ Becky refers to an event during which a white woman called the police on black people for barbecuing in a public park, saying it was illegal for them to do so.

The anti-racist internet mob found Obregon’s posts and began to launch a seek and destroy campaign against Torres. “Your Facebook is out there now. Enjoy being slaughtered by the masses,” a California woman wrote.

[…]

Tamar Lapin reported the story at the New York Post. Lapin found the story at Ebony Magazine, a black interest news site. According to Lapin, Ebony broke the story. She called Torres’ cellphone saying that she wanted to hear the “other side” of the event. Torres insisted that her 911 call “had nothing to do with race,” and that she herself was not white, and she wasn’t even sure that Obregon was black. “I told her, ‘I think you’re exploiting this as a race issue when it’s not.’”

Even after revealing she has autism to the reporter at The Post, Torres was devastated to learn that the article still maintained that it was a black-white issue. It would seem that nothing Torres could say would stop the domino effect of the fake news.

Months later, the internet still knows Torres as “Doorway Debbie.” She has made numerous attempts at suicide. “I felt that nobody was going to do anything, no one was going to face any repercussions unless I were to kill myself,” Torres said. “I tried to kill myself, I cut myself. I just felt so done and I felt ‘this is never going to get better,’”

This isn’t the first time a twitter mob has rushed to judgment against an innocent person, and it won’t be the last.  Here’s a good online rule no one lives by: if a news story seems to perfectly confirm your biases and preferred narrative, it may be too good to be true – or, perhaps more accurately, too bad to confirm your righteous indignation.

The greatest Christmas special of all time

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Watch out for the icy patch!

Several versions of A Christmas CarolIt’s a Wonderful LifeA Charlie Brown Christmas and Die Hard all have their charms, but nothing will ever top the Muppets and the Sesame Street gang and the Fraggles all celebrating the holidays together.

I defy even the most unsentimental person not to shed a tear near the end, when the great Jim Henson himself shows up.  How we could use him today.

As of 2018, The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock are all owned by different companies, so we shouldn’t expect to see another show like this anytime soon.  But their IP lawyers have enough Christmas spirit that they’ll turned a blind eye to its presence on YouTube.

Have a great Christmas, and best wishes for 2019.

We’re all Al Bundy now

In an interview with Rich Eisen, the great Ed O’Neill talked about how he got his breakout role on Married With Children by portraying Al Bundy not as angry and outraged by his family’s antics, but as a resigned loser who was past the point of caring:

Yesterday it was revealed that the President of the United States and his family were running a charity scam for years, and that legal threats have forced them to shut it down:

President Donald Trump’s personal charitable foundation has agreed to dissolve under judicial supervision amid an ongoing lawsuit concerning its finances, according to a document filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court by the New York state Attorney General’s office.

The dissolution of the Donald J. Trump Foundation resolves one element of the attorney general’s civil lawsuit against the foundation, which includes claims that the President and his three eldest children — Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric — violated campaign-finance laws and abused its tax-exempt status. Rather than operating it as a genuine charity, the lawsuit alleges, they instead allowed it to be used “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”

According to prosecutors, Trump’s phony charity scammed veterans:

The suit, filed in June, alleges that Trump and his children violated federal and state charities law with a “persistent” pattern of conduct that included unlawful coordination with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Central to the lawsuit is a nationally televised charity fundraiser for military veterans that Trump held in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 28, 2016, just ahead of the Republican caucus vote there. The foundation received $2.8 million as a result of that event. According to the New York suit, Trump campaign staff then directed the disbursement of those funds for Trump’s political benefit.

The lawsuit also alleges that Trump mined his charity for “personal enrichment,” including using $100,000 from the nonprofit to settle legal claims against his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Imagine if this had come up with Obama, or Clinton, or either of the Bushes in the White House.  It would be a scandal the likes of which Washington had never seen.  Public outrage would force the President to resign in disgrace.

For this President, it’s barely a blip on the radar:

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Again: the President of the United States ran a phony charity for his own benefit, and it’s little more than an afterthought compared to other stories about Trump-related scandals, corruption and investigations.  A sentencing hearing for his former National Security Advisor, whom the Judge basically accused of actual treason, bumped it to little more than a footnote.

While he was running for President, Trump famously said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any of his supporters.  He hasn’t personally killed anyone yet, but our ability to be shocked has certainly taken a hit.

The walls are crumbling

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It’s in the Enquirer.  It must be true.

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s sentencing got most of the attention yesterday, but this information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York might be even more significant:

The Office also announced today that it has previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, in connection with AMI’s role in making the above-described $150,000 payment before the 2016 presidential election.  As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.  AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.

Assuming AMI’s continued compliance with the agreement, the Office has agreed not to prosecute AMI for its role in that payment.  The agreement also acknowledges, among other things, AMI’s acceptance of responsibility, its substantial and important assistance in this investigation, and its agreement to provide cooperation in the future and implement specific improvements to its internal compliance to prevent future violations of the federal campaign finance laws.  These improvements include distributing written standards regarding federal election laws to its employees and conducting annual training concerning these standards.

Emphasis added.  AMI, parent company of the National Enquirer, is free to support whichever candidate it wants.  But paying off someone to suppress a damaging story, with the express intent of helping that candidate, looks like a serious campaign-finance violation.

Trump-skeptical conservative Allahpundit explains how this could be big trouble for the President:

…It’s legal to pay people off to benefit political candidates; it’s not legal to do it without reporting it to the FEC and it’s not legal to exceed the federal cap on contributions. The key question in analyzing whether the payment qualified as a campaign contribution was whether it was made for the purpose of influencing an election, rather than, say, for the purpose of sparing an adulterer’s family from embarrassment. The latter is what got John Edwards off the hook from this same sort of problem a few years ago. In the end, the feds couldn’t prove that his mistress was being hushed up to protect his presidential candidacy rather than to protect Mrs. Edwards from some personal pain.

Which brings us to today’s news. “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump,” said the company to the WSJ in a statement for its original story about this in November 2016. Two years later, AMI’s now saying something different. And suddenly the president’s in real trouble.

[…]

AMI just shredded Trump’s “Edwards defense.” The payment wasn’t made to spare Melania Trump or the Trump children from the embarrassment of learning about the affair. It was made to influence the election — that is, it was a campaign contribution. And it wasn’t reported. And it exceeded the statutory cap. And it was made in concert with the campaign. The DOJ has crept right up to the point of accusing the president of conspiring with AMI to make an illegal contribution. This is why I thought it was silly on Monday for Republican senators to be shrugging off last Friday’s court filings about Cohen on grounds that he’s a sleazeball and a liar whom no one should take seriously. He is a sleazeball and a liar, to be sure, but the feds never would have gone as far as to implicate Trump unless they had evidence beyond Cohen’s say-so. Today it’s implied that they do have more: They have AMI, not just Cohen, confirming that the law was intentionally broken and that “the campaign” knew about it. What does AMI know about Trump’s personal involvement in this?

Trump’s defense now (and maybe it’s the only defense left) will be that he didn’t know….

Good luck with that, considering that Cohen made a recording of him discussing this very issue with Trump in 2016:

Presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard on tape discussing with his attorney Michael Cohen how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier, according to the audio recording of the conversation aired exclusively on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”

The recording offers the public a glimpse at the confidential discussions between Trump and Cohen, and it confirms the man who now occupies the Oval Office had contemporaneous knowledge of a proposal to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a woman who has alleged she had an extramarital affair with Trump about a decade ago.

Cohen told Trump about his plans to set up a company and finance the purchase of the rights from American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer. The recording captures what appears to be a routine business conversation of several matters on their agenda. The audio is muddled and the meaning of Trump’s use of the word “cash” is disputed by the two sides.

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker.

When financing comes up again later in the conversation, Trump interrupts Cohen asking, “What financing?” according to the recording. When Cohen tells Trump, “We’ll have to pay,” Trump is heard saying “pay with cash” but the audio is muddled and it’s unclear whether he suggests paying with cash or not paying. Cohen says, “no, no” but it is not clear what is said next.

It’s been a long two years since Trump’s shocking election, but it really feels like something has changed in the past few weeks.  I’m calling it now: Trump will not be running for re-election in 2020.  Assuming he isn’t removed from office before his term runs out, I think he’ll deem himself the most successful President in history, declare victory and avoid a humiliating defeat by choosing not to run again.

(Because my predictions are always so accurate, you know.)

Your old tweets can and will be held against you

 

Growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, did I use anti-gay slurs as insults?  Yes, I did.  So did pretty much all of my classmates.  And, I’ll bet, so did you.

Gay rights have come a long way in a short time, and that’s a wonderful thing.  But if we’re going back through everyone’s old social media profiles to call them out for attitudes they held years ago – often when they were teenagers, and by definition irresponsible – count me out.

Kevin Hart withdrew from hosting the Oscars after people discovered his homophobic tweets from 2011.  I’m not sure the punishment fit the crime, any more than James Gunn’s off-color jokes should have cost him his job directing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but he was an adult when he wrote them.  What’s the excuse for going after Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray because of what he tweeted when he fifteen years old?

Newly minted Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray is apologizing for anti-gay tweets posted to his Twitter account several years ago, when he was 14 and 15.

The Oklahoma quarterback tweeted: “I apologize for the tweets that have come to light tonight from when I was 14 and 15. I used a poor choice of word that doesn’t reflect who I am or what I believe. I did not intend to single out any individual or group.”

The tweets have since been deleted from the account of Murray, 21, who won college football’s most prestigious individual award Saturday night over Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.

Robby Soave on the new outrage industry:

I said it after Roseanne, I said it after Sarah Jeong, I said it after James Gunn, and I said it after Kevin Hart: It’s time to declare an end to the practice of mining people’s past social media comments for fire-able offenses. This holds especially true for comments made by minors. Murray was 14 and 15-years-old at the time he made these ill-advised remarks. People my age and older are very lucky that Twitter didn’t exist when we were adolescents. I guarantee that the various authors of these Kyler Murray stories all said something crude or offensive—or at the very least, something they would not want “resurfaced”—when they were in high school.

Unfortunately, modern America is increasingly a place that does not allow children to make mistakes. A schoolyard scuffle is a reason to call the cops and taser the teens involved. A messy romance merits sexual exploitation charges and sex offender status. A bad tweet is front page news.

Murray is going to be fine—he apologized swiftly, and it appears that a backlash of sorts is already forming. Next time, maybe the media could simply skip the step of trying to make everybody angry about such a stupid thing.

In the meantime, if Bradley Cooper wins an Academy Award for A Star is Born, he’d better be prepared to profusely apologize for this scene from The Hangover:

The Churchill Falls curse

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This is basically all Newfoundland and Labrador got out of the deal.

Today the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear: Newfoundland and Labrador is stuck with one of the one-sided business deals in history for the foreseeable future.

The Supreme Court of Canada will not force Hydro-Québec to renegotiate a 65-year contract to buy low-cost electricity from the Churchill Falls power station in Labrador.

The decision means Quebec’s power utility will continue to reap enormous profits from the Churchill Falls deal. But it’s a blow for Newfoundland and Labrador, which has seen a small fraction of the benefits from the project.

The price of electricity dramatically increased after the agreement was signed in 1969 but Hydro-Québec has refused to alter the terms of the contract to account for the changed market.

The Churchill Falls Corporation took the utility to court in 2010 to force a renegotiation, arguing that Quebec’s Civil Code meant that both parties had to treat each other in “good faith.”

In the decision released Friday, the Supreme Court upheld two lower court decisions in favor of Hydro-Québec, with seven justices in agreement and only one, Justice Malcolm Rowe, a Newfoundland native, dissenting.

The court said Hydro-Québec had no legal obligation to renegotiate the deal.

“The duty of good faith does not negate a party’s right to rely on the words of the contract unless insistence on the right constitutes unreasonable conduct in the circumstances.”

The court rejected Churchill Falls Corporation’s claim that the original contract was akin to a joint venture, with both sides sharing the risks and rewards. And the court found there was nothing implicit in the contract to suggest it would be renegotiated if the market changed.

The deal finally expires in 2041.  With Newfoundland’s luck, they’ll probably have perfected cold fusion or something by then.

Barrie McKenna explains what the Churchill Falls fiasco means to Newfoundland and Labrador, and how the provincial government tried to avoid repeating that big mistake by making another big mistake:

The obvious lesson in the latest failed lawsuit is that Newfoundlanders should move on. This should be the end of the story.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruling hasn’t erased deep financial and psychological scars. Newfoundland unknowingly blundered once by agreeing to the 1969 contract. And it doubled down a generation later by blindly forging ahead on its own with the high-risk Muskrat Falls megaproject on the Lower Churchill River, which is slated to begin producing hydroelectric power in 2020.

For former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams, developing Muskrat Falls was never just about generating hydro power. It was about sticking it to Quebec, and righting the perceived wrongs of the Churchill Falls contract. Never again, he vowed, would Newfoundlanders let themselves be exploited by Quebec. So instead of selling the power from Muskrat Falls to the most obvious customer – Quebec – the province opted to go it alone, with all the inherent risks. It will repatriate the power to Newfoundland and finance a circuitous underwater transmission line to Nova Scotia.

The unfortunate consequence of this energy hubris is that instead of being cheated by its neighbour, Newfoundlanders are fleecing themselves. Delays and cost overruns on the $12.7-billion megaproject will cause residential hydro rates to more than double across Newfoundland by 2022 and could eventually bankrupt the tiny province. A provincial inquiry, charged with uncovering what went wrong and whom to blame, is slated to release its final report late next year.

[…]

As the Supreme Court pointed out in its decision, the contract was specifically structured “to have Hydro-Québec assume a risk that CFLCo did not want to assume.” The low fixed price and the long term were Hydro-Québec’s compensation for taking on that risk, the court concluded.

The court did point out that the province stands to get back full rights to Churchill Falls and its cheap power in 2041, reaping the windfall gains in the decades beyond.

That won’t help Newfoundland in the short-term. The province is caught in an economic, fiscal and demographic trap. The federal Parliamentary Budget Officer has warned that the small and slow-growing province must either slash spending or dramatically raise taxes to avoid a debt trap, and bankruptcy.

It’s Trump, but not just Trump

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That’s not a MAGA hat.

Has President Trump contributed toward the mainstreaming of antisemitism and bigotry?  Put it this way: a GOP candidate in Connecticut had no qualms about sending out a mailer showing his Jewish opponent grasping for money.

I don’t know if Trump is himself antisemitic – as his defenders point out, his daughter is a convert to Judaism – but he’s certainly indifferent to it among his supporters.  And as we saw in Pittsburgh this past weekend, it’s a short journey from antisemitic hatred to the mass murder of Jews.

But it’s called “the oldest hatred” for a reason.  As Philip Klein points out, antisemitism was prevalent long before Trump ran for President, and unfortunately it likely won’t go away even after he’s perp-walked out of the White House.

The reality is that anti-Semitism is an evil that has been with us for thousands of years and, despite the great blessings of freedom and religious liberty enjoyed by Jews here, it existed in America long before Trump entered the political scene. If we only talk about anti-Semitism within the limited context of Trump, we will fail to understand and combat it.

Since the FBI started keeping data in 1996 and through 2016 (the most recent year for which statistics were available and the year prior to Trump’s presidency), there were 19,023 anti-Jewish hate crimes recorded. That represented about two-thirds of all religious hate crimes in the U.S. — a shocking statistic considering that Jews only make up about 2 percent of the population. Those crimes occurred under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

It’s common for Jews to navigate armed guards, police, and metal detectors when going to worship at synagogues, drop their children off at Jewish daycare centers, or attend activities at local Jewish community centers.

The Pittsburgh shooting was the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history, but for many of us, something like it has felt inevitable for a long time. There were were shootings at a JCC in Los Angeles in 1999; at the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006; at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009; and the Overland Park, Kan., JCC in 2014. Bomb plots have also been thwarted. Those were fortunately less successful for various reasons, including heroic efforts of security and law enforcement personnel.

As somebody who has spent a long time raising alarms about anti-Semitism, it’s frustrating to see that people who have ignored the festering problem for so long only care about it when they can weaponize it against Trump.

Anti-Semitism comes in many shapes and is not confined to Right or Left, either in the U.S. or throughout the world. It thrives among those who are completely ignorant and among educated elites. In recent decades, it’s often been cloaked as opposition to Israel.

Even as the bodies of Jews murdered at prayer were being removed from the Tree of Life Synagogue, serial plagiarist C.J. Werleman was ensuring his Twitter followers that Hamas, whose Charter  cites The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to justify a war against the Jews, isn’t really antisemitic because something something Israel:

It is remarkable, how antisemitism ceases to be antisemitism when you substitute the word “Zionist” for “Jew.”  And also how people who insist Israel doesn’t really represent the Jews are quick to bring up Israel whenever Jews anywhere else in the world are attacked.

Meanwhile, here in Halifax, James Petras is still listed as a faculty member at St. Mary’s University.

The proto-Beto

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While Democrats convince themselves that Beto O’Rourke can knock off Ted Cruz next month, Jim Geraghty  notes that we’ve been here before:

Way back in 1996, a little-known high-school teacher named Victor Morales won the Texas Demo­cratic Senate primary. He beat two better-known and better-funded members of Congress, John Bryant and Jim Chapman Jr., and Morales was the first non-white candidate for Senate to win the nomination of either party in state history. The media were enraptured with the tale of a humble teacher who put 60,000 miles onto the odometer of his dented white pickup, crisscrossing Texas, taking on incumbent GOP senator Phil Gramm.

Richard Estrada of the Dallas Morning News wrote that “Morales fairly oozes sincerity. He is the consummate outsider. In truth, Morales is not just a viable candidate, the enthusiastic re­sponse he is receiving signals that he is a political phenomenon.” The New York Times declared that Morales “could energize Hispanic Democrats to turn out for him this November, maybe even providing major help for President Clinton here or for other Democrats.”

Texas Monthly tracked how Morales had become a media phenomenon: “Morales has been profiled in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Miami Herald and on the Today show, Dateline, and CNN. Perhaps most important, he has sat for the obligatory, underdog-championing portrait in People.”

Despite all the hype about Morales, the race was never all that competitive; Gramm went on to win by eleven points, one of the early chapters of a long, painful stretch for Texas Democrats…

Ted Cruz briefly showed flashes of courage when he wouldn’t endorse Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, and then promptly returned to form.  If O’Rourke beats him I won’t want anything else for Christmas.

It’s not impossible – FiveThirtyEight gives Beto a one-in-five chance – but I still wouldn’t bet on it.