Monday, May 4, 2020
This title offers a pretty apt introduction to the week:
As death toll passes 60,000, Trump's team searches for an exit strategy.
A good second course would be Adam Serwer:
Trump is inciting a coronavirus culture war to save himself.
Trump doesn't seem to understand much, but his big hedgehog idea
is that every day is a campaign day, and issues matter only in that
they can be spun as campaign fodder. This mostly means casting them
as culture war, using his takes to excite his base, or to offend
his enemies (which in turn excites his base). He doesn't have any
other interest in solving problems, and never feels the least bit
of responsibility when his administration fails. Indeed, he's found
that he can usually get away with not mentioning it (or declaring
it "fake news" when someone else brings it up). After all, political
discourse on the right has been untethered from reality ever since
Reagan discovered "morning in America."
As for his minions, they, too, have one hedgehog idea, which is
to consolidate as much political power as possible, and use that
power to do favors for their donors, seeing that as the way to
consolidate even more power. Hence, even with the pandemic dominating
the headlines, they keep plugging away at spreading their corrupt
Some primary returns:
Ohio (April 28, postponed from March 17): Joe Biden 72.43%,
Bernie Sanders 16.61%;
Kansas (May 2): Joe Biden 76.85%, Bernie Sanders 23.15%. Kansas,
by the way, used a ranked choice system, which eventually reduced
Tulsi Gabbard, Elizabeth Warren, and "uncommitted" to 0 votes.
Wikipedia has more: Warren got 7.8% in the first round. Biden
gained 6,119 votes when she was eliminated, vs. 5,822 for Sanders.
Some scattered links this week:
How Benjamin Netanyahu has managed the pandemic for political gain.
More on Israel:
Trump moves to replace watchdog who identified critical medical
Joe Biden/Elizabeth Warren:
There's no oversight of coronavirus relief -- because that's what
Trump wants. Pretty solid as politician-penned op-eds go. Nice
photos too. Makes them look as well as sound like a ticket.
Was that military flyover really worth the cost to taxpayers?
"Looking at what we spend on unwanted, overpriced tanks and planes
against the shortfalls in protective gear."
Trump wants to use coronavirus aid as leverage to force blue states to
change immigration policies. The way I read this, he wants to use
the existence of "sanctuary cities" as an excuse to deny federal aid to
"blue states." I'm not aware of any states actually having immigration
Tyler Cullis/Trita Parsi:
In tortured logic, Trump begs for a do-over on the Iran nuclear
Reopening the economy will send us to hell.
The new Great Depression is coming. Will there be a new New Deal?
Not without a major political shift, and it's quite possible that as
the crisis shifts into a "new normalcy" Republicans won't get blamed
and discredited like they were under Hoover -- after all, coronavirus
is still viewed as an external factor, even though the real damage to
the US economy and society had gradually built up under decades of
Republican-driven misrule. (Democrats don't have "clean hands" there,
but their faults were mostly the result of conceding to Republican
percepts while trying to compete for business favors). New York Times
has several more related op-eds:
The novel frugality. My parents grew up on farms during the Great
Depression, so much of this is pretty familiar to me. After my mother
died, the first thing I did was throw out a drawer full of wire ties
and recycled plastic bags.
Trump's nationalism advances on a predictable trajectory to violence.
His supporters will kill when they're told to.
Mitch McConnell's shameless pursuit of power, explained: Interview
with Jane Mayer, author of a recent New Yorker profile,
How Mitch McConnell became Trump's enabler-in-chief.
The coronavirus revealed what was already broken in America: Lots
of people could have made this point, but one Illing interviewed here
is George Packer, who many of us have had trouble stomaching since he
emerged as a leading liberal apologist for Bush's 2003 invasion of
Iraq. To be fair, he walked his advocacy back, rather quickly in his
2005 book, The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq, but he wrote
a hagiography of fellow hawk Richard Holbrooke as recently as 2019.
His book cited here is The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New
America (2013), and he wrote a recent piece in The Atlantic where
We are living in a failed state. I'll limit myself to one minor
point here. Illing quotes Packer as writing, "If 9/11 and 2008 wore
out trust in the old political establishment, 2020 should kill off
the idea that anti-politics is our salvation." Trust maybe, but the
"old political establishment" clung tenaciously to power after 9/11
and 2008, with no practical challenge from the so-called opposition
party. In fact, when Democrats gained power in 2009, they made a big
show of continuity -- both of the post-9/11 Forever Wars and of the
desperate 2008 scramble to bail out the banks -- retaining Bush's
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, giving Fed chairman Ben Bernanke
a second term, and promoting NY Fed chairman Timothy Geithner to
Secretary of the Treasury. I never really thought of Trump in 2016
as "anti-politics," but one can't imagine any candidate more certain
than Hillary Clinton to extend the continuity of politics as usual
from Bush-Obama, so maybe we shouldn't be shocked that some voters
fell for "what have you got to lose"? Near four years later, we're
just beginning to add up the toll -- but the Democrats countered
with a candidate who is even more wedded to the old politics.
The post-pandemic future of work.
A single Trump tweet sums up his media strategy: Confusion.
Many world leaders have seen double-digit polling surges amid coronavirus.
Trump isn't one of them.
Kent State and the war that never ended. Reviews some books:
Derf Backderf: Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio (described as
a "gut-wrenching graphic nonfiction novel");
Nancy K Bristow: Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power,
Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College;
David Paul Kuhn: The Hardhat Riot: Nixon, New York City, and
the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution; as well as
mentioning earlier books: I.F. Stone: The Killings at Kent State:
How Murder Went Unpunished (1970), and Philip Caputo: 13
Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings (2005).
Why we can't help France fight its failed colonial wars in Africa:
"US lawmakers are pushing our military to stay in a region that really
has no strategic interest for America." I don't see what "strategic
interest" has to do with it, although that argument has been used with
some success in the past, as when J William Fulbright objected to LBJ's
attempt to send US troops into 1960s Congo. Since then US encroachments
in Africa have generally been kept quiet, even though the existence of
AFRICOM shouts otherwise. On the other hand, France has intervened
repeatedly in its former African colonies. (Although, when France and
Italy wanted to intervene in Libya, they prevailed on their "NATO ally"
to do the heavy bombing.)
It helps to keep this history in context. One of the key lessons of
WWII was that European powers could no longer afford to govern their
colonies in Africa and Asia -- in part because the profits of empire
had been privatized, but also because people everywhere were revolting
against imperial rule -- but they still wanted to exploit them. The
solution was to arrange for independence led by friendly or corrupt
local elites. The US got into the game big time, especially anywhere
independence threatened capital interests, all the while assuring US
companies a cut of the profits (although after globalization is has
become impossible to tell which companies belong to which countries).
Of course, Washington would rather work through proxies and cronies,
but with hundreds of bases scattered all around the world, thousands
of "advisers" and arms merchants, the US alone is capable of striking
anywhere almost instantly. On the other hand, when people do choose
to fight back, American troops have often proved to be ineffective.
Maybe, as Jonathan Schell put it, the world really is unconquerable.
The morbid ideology behind the drive to reopen America.
Through creative accounting, Trump tries to cast America's death toll as
The coronavirus is showing members of the professional class that the
government doesn't work for them either.
Mitch McConnell's rediscovery of the deficit is a recipe for a
Mark Mazzetti/Julian E Barnes/Edward Wong/Adam Goldman:
Trump officials are said to press spies to link virus and Wuhan labs.
Trump is keeping meatpacking plants open -- but employees are scared to
show up for work.
The White House has blocked Anthony Fauci from testifying in front of
a House committee.
A sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden ignited a firestorm of
controversy: "A woman says Biden assaulted her in 1993 and has
filed a criminal complaint."
Maybe had Sanders won the Democratic nomination, I might be tempted
to argue that personal character matters in this election, but he's
a rare exception among politicians. Most are the sort you don't want
to get too close to, and Biden is at best par for the course, perhaps
a bit dingier, maybe creepier too. But at this point I really don't
care, except negatively inasmuch as I think these personal stories
are distractions from the substantive political issues we should be
focusing on in this election. Of course, Biden has a pretty severely
tarnished record there, too, but compared to Trump he's an easy pick.
Maybe on character, too, but at this point I'm not even interested
in finding out. I'm reminded that when Louisiana Republicans picked
Ku Klux Klan Führer David Duke as their gubernatorial candidate, his
opponent, who had recently spent time in jail for corruption, ran
a successful campaign on the slogan: "Vote for the crook. It's
important." I doubt Biden will have to stoop that low, but running
against Trump, he surely can.
Jonathan O'Connell/Steve Rich/Peter Whoriskey:
Public companies received $1 billion in stimulus funds meant for small
How Greenwich Republicans learned to love Trump. Turns out that
Trump's supporters aren't just dumb white blue collar workers. They
also include a big slice of well off, secluded suburban elites.
Democrats aren't stuck with Joe Biden: "No one has to tie themselves
in knots to defend him if they don't want to." Nice sentiment, but hard
for me to see any alternative. The primary season got wrecked before the
pandemic finished it off, but Biden did get his votes, even if he did
next to nothing to deserve them, and lost badly when voters had a chance
to consider alternatives. But now what? Have the party insiders impose
some alternative that voters never had the chance to consider? Pareene
mentions the possibility of an Andrew Cuomo-Stacy Abrams ticket, as if
that would be more viable. Like Pareene, I'm not going to tie myself in
knots trying to defend Biden. I may not defend him at all. But I'll vote
for him against Trump, and I'll try not to make myself look too desperate
in doing so.
Where coronavirus is hitting rural America hard.
Socialism for investors, capitalism for everyone else. Still writing
from the prejudice that "socialism" is a bad thing (much like people thought
they were scoring points when complaining about "corporate welfare"). The
word, after all, is rooted in "social," which is something hedge funds will
never be associated with. I'm reminded here of "the Greenspan put" -- the
guarantee that whenever markets showed signs of weakness, the Fed would
intervene to prop they up again. Back in the 1990s, investors could still
claim a "risk premium," even though Greenspan had virtually eliminated
the risk of investing. Since 2008, the Fed has had to get creative to prop
up an ever more precariously overvalued stock market, and the measures
Pearlstein is talking about here are simply the latest and most extreme
measures. As for "everyone else," what they get isn't really capitalism,
just the trail of wreckage capitalists have always left in their wake.
A city in Oklahoma ends face mask requirement after store employees
threatened. City is
Stillwater, in north-central Oklahoma, pop. 50,391, home of Oklahoma
State University, population below poverty line 27.3%. I've passed
through the town dozens of times, often in recent times hoping (and
failing) to find a more cosmopolitan restaurant than smaller towns
nearby. Can't think of much nice to say about the place.
Mitch McConnell is gaslighting Democrats (again).
Kim Stanley Robinson:
The coronavirus is rewriting our imaginations. Sometimes, I guess,
it takes a novelist used to constructing imaginary worlds to see the
one we're in:
In many ways, we've been overdue for such a shift. In our feelings,
we've been lagging behind the times in which we live. The Anthropocene,
the Great Acceleration, the age of climate change -- whatever you want
to call it, we've been out of synch with the biosphere, wasting our
children's hopes for a normal life, burning our ecological capital as
if it were disposable income, wrecking our one and only home in ways
that soon will be beyond our descendants' ability to repair. And yet
we've been acting as though it were 2000, or 1990 -- as though the
neoliberal arrangements built back then still made sense. We've been
paralyzed, living in the world without feeling it.
Now, all of a sudden, we're acting fast as a civilization. We're
trying, despite many obstacles, to flatten the curve -- to avoid mass
death. Doing this, we know that we're living in a moment of historic
importance. We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be
remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters. . . .
Margaret Thatcher said that "there is no such thing as society," and
Ronald Reagan said that "government is not the solution to our problem;
government is the problem." These stupid slogans marked the turn away
from the postwar period of reconstruction and underpin much of the
bullshit of the past forty years. . . .
Economics is a system for optimizing resources, and, if it were
trying to calculate ways to optimize a sustainable civilization in
balance with the biosphere, it could be a helpful tool. When it's
used to optimize profit, however, it encourages us to live within
a system of destructive falsehoods.
Bernie Sanders/Pramila Jayapal:
The pandemic has made the US healthcare crisis far more dire. We must
fix the system.
The right's gun routine falls flat during the pandemic: "Michigan's
governor has a killer virus to be scared of, not a bunch of clowns
terrorizing lawmakers with firearms. That's why she held firm on her
Jeff Stein/Carol D Leonnig/Josh Dawsey/Gerri Shih:
US officials crafting retaliatory actions against China over coronavirus
as President Trump fumes.
Emily Stewart/Christina Animashaun:
30 million Americans have lost their jobs in 6 weeks. This week's
new filings down to 3.3 million, still almost five times the pre-March
The inevitable coronavirus censorship crisis is here.
The exclusivity economy: "How concierge dining, health, and travel
services insulate the wealthy and hide soaring inequality." Draws on
Nelson D Schwartz's book, The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality
Became Big Business -- a long list of options the rich have to
keep themselves separate (and more pampered) from everyone else.
Kenneth P Vogel/Jim Rutenberg/Lisa Lerer:
The quiet hand of conservative groups in anti-lockdown protests.
One prominent Tea Party funder, Charles Koch and his groups, is
reportedly not involved in the demonstrations.
What the coronavirus models can't see.
Republicans are absolutely deluded if they think only blue states need
a bailout: The state hit worst is Louisiana, followed by New Jersey,
New York, Missouri, Florida, Kansas, and Kentucky. We've managed to end
some of the Brownback tax cuts in Kansas, but the tax base here is still
heavily dependent on some of the highest sales taxes in the nation.
Chart shows 21 states, and most are red. Not on the list: any of the
West Coast and only Rhode Island and Maine in New England.
Governors in all 50 states get better marks than Trump in COVID response.
Hillary Clinton has officially endorsed Joe Biden for president.