Friday, April 10, 2020
We seem to be at a crossroads, where the pandemic is undiminished
but the pressures to re-open the economy have grown to the point where
stupidity is taking over. I have to admit I was surprised to see the
economy shut down as quickly and firmly as happened in the first weeks
of March. I was also surprised that Congress moved so dramatically to
compensate victims of the collapse. However, over the last couple of
weeks Republicans have started to revert to form. It's never been
clearer how they see the stock market as a proxy for America: with
the stock market recovered from its initial shock, they don't have
any qualms about letting the rest of the economy rot. Sure, they
talk about opening up, but what they really want to do is to shirk
responsibility: to blame unemployment on chickenshit workers and
customers, and bully them into bucking up.
Meme of the week: "The end of stay-at-home orders doesn't mean the
pandemic is over. It means they currently have room for you in the
Some scattered links this week:
Following Mexico's worker strikes, US steps in to keep border factories
Peter Baker/Michael Crowley:
Two White house coronavirus cases raise question of if anyone is really
Trump vows complete end of Obamacare law despite pandemic.
The coronavirus killed American exceptionalism.
Fauci and Birx's public withdrawal worries health experts: "As Trump
clamps down on coronavirus communications, voices of experts give way to
those of politicians."
Win or loose, Trump's top campaign aides are raking in the cash.
For Parscale, who just a few years ago was designing websites in San
Antonio for Trump's properties, among other clients, the sudden wealth
has afforded him a $2.4 million waterfront house in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida, a pair of million-dollar condos, a brand new $400,000 boat,
and another half-million dollars in luxury cars, including a Range
Rover and a Ferrari.
"This thing has been a large criminal enterprise. It's like that
scene in the 'Goodfellas' after the heist," said Republican consultant
Stuart Stevens, a veteran of the George W. Bush and Mitt Romney
presidential campaigns. "Dishing out furs to mob bosses' girlfriends
On the other hand, you have to admit that Parscale et al. are really
getting in tune with what Trump is all about.
Aaron C Davis:
In the early days of the pandemic, the US government turned down an offer
to manufacture millions of N95 masks in America. Related:
Jason Dearen/Mike Stobbe:
Trump administration buries detailed CDC advice on reopening.
Pulitzer winner Chris Hedges: These "are the good times -- compared to
what's coming next." Interview with Hedges, who insists: "We're
heading for a steep decline; Biden and the Democrats have no answers."
Concludes with a long pitch on "what does it mean to vote for Joe Biden?" --
projecting into the future every mistake and misstep Biden has made over
the last 40-50 years (and sure, there have been a lot of them). On the
other hand, to pick just one example, do you really think that Biden
wants to further militarize the police and double again the population
of American prisons? And do you really think that Democrats today would
let him do that? Or sign another trade deal like NAFTA, further decimating
America's manufacturing industry? I think it speaks poorly as to Biden's
character that he has gone along with (and in rare instances led) such
things in the past, and I think Democrats made a mistake nominating a
politician with such a miserable record, but I don't think it fates him
or them to repeatedly worsen such mistakes in the future. Hedges insists,
"America's current political system is a corporate political duopoly."
He then admits trivial differences, although the Republican side of the
list ("nativists and racists and climate deniers and creationists") doesn't
strike me as all that trivial. True, Democrats have long been beholden to
the donor class, and they've often put their donors' interests above the
people's, but they also depend on the people for votes, and occasionally
offer them some consolation and hope -- while Republicans under Trump have
little to offer their "base" beyond vindictive rage. Hedges' critique of
the "corporate Democrats" has been valid for a long time, but is eroding
now as the reality of increasing inequality and risks posed by war, by
pollution, by climate change, and by pandemic becomes undeniable. Biden's
nomination may be a last hurrah for the Democratic Party old guard, but if
elected the problems he will face are ones that only have viable solutions
by moving the country to the left. He may well lack the imagination and
leadership skills to succeed, but it's hard to see how he could fail worse
than the current president and his party. I might respect Hedges' pessimism
more if he offered some insight that wasn't simply rooted in repetition of
past failures. It may well be true, for instance, that globalization and
overpopulation has made pandemics (and similar health risks like resistant
bacteria) inevitable and increasingly frequent. It probably is true that
climate change is irreversible and will lead to catastrophic events. It
may be the case that elites will prove so skilled at manipulating mass
psychology that democracy will never get the chance to make rational
poitical decisions. It is likely that technology will develop in strange
ways with vast unintended consequences. It may be that people are so
ill-adapted to civilization that they will tear it down rather than
figure out how to humanize it. Serious pessimists can do something with
such thoughts. Hedges, on the other hand, offers this prescription for
a better future: "Mass mobilization and civil disobedience is what is
needed to defeat the oligarchs and take those first steps necessary to
win back an American democracy." Sure, that's what left-activists like
Hedges have believed and lived by at least since the noble struggle for
civil rights, but that never was a tactic virtuous in its own right --
as the anti-abortion movement proved, and today's anti-lockdown protests
are reiterating. At some point every movement has to move off the streets
and into the voting booths. And even if it's still hard to find candidates
clearly committed to "defeating oligarchs" and "restoring democracy," it's
not really that hard to identify differences. You can start by preferring
candidates who empathize with more people and are more skeptical of elite
favors. You can look for candidates who are smarter and more realistic.
And if all else fails, you can vote for Democrats on the grounds that
(unlike Republicans) they at least on occasion line up with reasonable,
The plague brought the Renaissance. What could Covid-19 bring?
"Three hypotheses on post-pandemic life." Pull quote: "My three
hypotheses (and my hope) is that the long-term effect of the coronavirus
pandemic will be to strengthen the importance (at least in North America)
of competence, science, and solidarity." Evidently by showing what
happens when you lack or ignore all three.
Peter Elkind/Doris Burke/Meg Cramer:
Meet the shadowy accountants who do Trump's taxes and help him seem
richer than he is.
Debunking Trump's China nonsense.
On the road to emancipation: "The making of the Radical Republicans."
Reviews LeeAnna Keith: When It Was Grand: The Radical Republican History
of the Civil War. Here's a fact I didn't know, but which makes today's
polarization seem relatively civil: "Joanne B. Freeman's The Field of
Blood relates how nearly every session of Congress from the mid-1830s
to the outbreak of civil war in 1861 witnessed members exchanging punches
or drawing knives and pistols." I did know about the caning of Charles
Sumner on the Senate floor, but thought it more isolated. [Andrew Delbanco
reviewed Freeman's book
here, starting with details of the assault on Sumner.] Other notes:
"Kellie Carter Jackson's recent study of black abolitionists, Force
and Freedom, focuses on their increasingly vocal calls for slave
rebellion." And: "In The War Before the War, his study of the
response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Andrew Delbanco suggests
that armed conflict over slavery began years before the attack on Fort
Sumter" -- not so surprising given to anyone familiar with the career
and legacy of John Brown.
Does the Never Trump movement matter?: Reviews a new book by
Robert P Saldin and Steven M Teles: Never Trump: The Revolt of
the Conservative Elites. While GOP elites may have started out
uneasy about Trump, their qualms were tactical rather than moral,
and they vanished the moment Trump scored his upset victory. It is
significant that there are virtually no politicians in the "Never
Trump" camp. The only identifiable names are pundits, most of whom
write for mainstream outlets which prize the occasional centrist
heterodoxy a George Will or a David Brooks trades in. Such writers
are only amusing when they lay into Trump (Jennifer Rubin and Max
Boot show particular relish there) but become instantly ridiculous
the moment they try to defend their conservative bona fides. One
imagines they saw their apostasy as a calculated bet given certainty
that Trump would prove a colossal failure, and now they're stuck and
lost. When the time does come to blot Trump from GOP memory -- as it
has for GW Bush -- the party faithful won't remember the "Never
Trumpers" for their prescience. They're a spent force both in and
beyond their party.
With a distracted public, the Pentagon tries to get away with killing
innocent civilians. Sure, but since when did the US need a pandemic
to provide cover for indiscriminate slaughter abroad?
It's not your imagination. Allergy season gets worse every year.
Getting Trumped by Covid-19. First-person narrative, experiencing
lockdown first in Norway then in America (Massachusetts). One of those
nations dealt with it competently and effectively. One didn't. She
tested positive after flying to Boston.
Ida B Wells awarded posthumous Pulitzer Prize for lynching investigations.
A little late, given that she died in 1931, and her reporting on lynchings
date from 1892.
The Justice Department has dropped Michael Flynn's case. Related:
Bill Barr's revealing defense of the Flynn decision.
Barr reignites charge he is conducting Mueller cleanup for Trump.
Welcome to William Barr's America, where the truth makes way for the
11 legal experts agree: There's no good reason for DOJ to drop the
Michael Flynn case.
Why the Flynn dismissal is way worse than a pardon.
Mary B McCord:
Bill Barr twisted my words in dropping the Flynn case. Here's the truth.
Heather Digby Parton:
Michael Flynn walks free -- and Donald Trump's massive betrayal of America
continues. Poor choice of words: "betrayal of America" implies that
"America" has some interests distinct from the American people, and her
thrust becomes clear with the second sentence landing on Vladimir Putin.
As I see it, Flynn is guilty of three things: (1) politicizing his rank
as a lieutenant general while still in service, setting himself up as an
influential Republican operative once he got fired; (2) using his insider
political status to seek out lucrative "consulting" fees from foreign
governments (especially, but not exclusively, Turkey), even while seeking
a Trump post that would obviously present conflicts of interest; and (3)
lying to the FBI about what he had done. Now, the latter doesn't strike
me as much of a crime -- indeed, it seems designed to criminalize behavior
that is merely embarrassing -- but that he lied is an admission that what
he lied about was embarrassing, even if not technically illegal (in which
case he could have pleaded the fifth amendment, but that would probably
have failed his FBI vetting, and therefore his chance of capitalizing on
his appointment). In dropping the charges, Barr is doing something else,
even if it's not quite clear exactly what. He seems to be signaling to
other Trump people that it's OK to do Flynn-like things, including lie
to the FBI, as long as they remain in Trump's good graces. He also seems
to be telling the American people that it's OK if politics (or in Flynn's
case, the pursuit of money and influence) skirts a few laws -- that the
Justice Department will use its discretion to decide who to prosecute
and who it can exempt, and that those decisions are more clearly than
ever ones of political expediency. I don't know whether that "betrays
America," but it most definitely screws the American people.
The Michael Flynn dismissal is another shot in Trump's war on the Mueller
Mike Flynn ran interference for Israel -- but that angle goes unmentioned
The beginning of the end for oil? [Also at
Screen New Deal: "Under cover of mass death, Andrew Cuomo calls in
the billionaires to build a high-tech dystopia." Also on Cuomo:
An epidemic of hardship and hunger: "Why won't Republicans help
Americans losing their jobs?"
Trump and his infallible advisers: "Beware men who never admit
having been wrong." As many have noted, Trump seems constitutionally
incapable of admitting error, even when confronted with his own claims
that coronavirus cases "within a couple of days is going to be down
close to zero" and the economy is "holding up nicely."
At a time of crisis, America is led by a whiny, childlike man whose ego
is too fragile to let him concede ever having made any kind of error.
And he has surrounded himself with people who share his lack of character.
But where do these people come from? What has struck me, as details
of Trump's coronavirus debacle continue to emerge, is that he wasn't
getting bad advice from obscure, fringe figures whose only claim to fame
was their successful sycophancy. On the contrary, the people telling him
what he wanted to hear were, by and large, pillars of the conservative
establishment with long pre-Trump careers.
But when Krugman expands upon an example, he picks Kevin Hassett,
who strikes me as pretty fringe, although he does have a long pre-Trump
career, most notoriously his 1999 book Dow 36,000. Hassett was
given the job of figuring out a way to model Covid-19 cases to make
them disappear or at least diminish. For more on this, see Matthew
The Trump administration's "cubic model" of coronavirus deaths,
explained. Krugman closes:
Yes, Trump's insecurity leads him to reject expertise, listen only to
people who tell him what makes him feel good and refuse to acknowledge
error. But disdain for experts, preference for incompetent loyalists
and failure to learn from experience are standard operating procedure
for the whole modern G.O.P.
Trump's narcissism and solipsism are especially blatant, even
flamboyant. But he isn't an outlier; he's more a culmination of the
American right's long-term trend toward intellectual degradation. And
that degradation, more than Trump's character, is what is leading to
vast numbers of unnecessary deaths.
Crashing economy, rising stocks: What's going on? "What's bad for
America is sometimes good for the market." The simplest explanation is
that Trump et al. actually care about the stock market, unlike workers,
people, or even the economy -- not just because they're all about the
1% that owns 70% of the stocks, but because return on investment is
the only thing that really matters to them. Of course, given their
notorious incompetence, they still might blow it, but it turns out
that it's remarkably easy to bolster the stock market: just shell out
lots of money to companies, especially to banks, and the Fed is designed
just to do that.
Peacocks and vultures are circling the deficit.
The zombie invasion of Team Biden: "As I
wrote last week, the Biden campaign has been doing its best to conceal
Larry Summers's involvement in the campaign. But now Bloomberg News
has outed him." Let me add one more point: the problem with Summers
isn't just that he's often wrong (although he is, and spectacularly so),
but that he's such a dominant intellectual bully that he sucks all of
the oxygen out of the room, letting no one else get a word in. Of course,
blame for that should be shared by Clinton and Obama, who gave Summers
positions that gave him that kind of leverage. From what I gather, Obama
had fairly major issues both with Summers and Geithner, but was rarely
(if ever) able to overrule them. It's hard to see how Biden could stand
up to him.
The GOP isn't cynical enough to save us from a depression: "For
Republicans, some things are more important than winning an election --
and denying aid to vulnerable workers is one of them."
The agonizing story of Tara Reade. "Here's what I found, and where
What's killing the white working class? "The GOP continues to supply
more of the policies that are destroying its base." Review of Anne Case
and Angus Deaton: Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.
They were among the first to note a downturn in life expectancy among
working class whites, and they build on that discovery here. I'm less
sure about the political dimension. Republicans get a reliable majority
of white working class votes, even though by any objective measure
Republican policies have made working class lives poorer and riskier.
However, I wonder whether the subset of the working class that votes
for Trump and other Republicans doesn't differ from the class as a
whole: by having (for the moment) more stable jobs, by enjoying more
robust families, by being able to call on the support of churches.
In contrast, the people who are dying prematurely are most likely
the ones who have slipped through the fractures. Republicans have
done a remarkable job of convincing a majority of the white working
class that the failures of their neighbors are due to their personal
weaknesses (abetted by sinister liberal elites), and that their best
defense is to join the Republican defense of their culture. That's
a krock, of course, but until tragedy strikes, most people like to
think they are immune.
Why we need cooperatives for the digital economy: I'd go a step
further and assert that any commercial software platform can be
supplanted by a publicly-funded cooperative which would be cheaper
to develop and run, more reliable, more functional for many more
people, and free of both obvious and hidden traps and taxes.
One damn thing after another: Review of recent books by Sheri
Berman (Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime
to the Present Day) and Adam Przeworski (Crises of Democracy).
Trump administration releases new campus sexual assault rules in the
midst of the pandemic.
Trump drafts everyday Americans to adopt his battlefield rhetoric.
In his State of the Union speech, Trump warned about the peril of
"stupid wars," not that his insight kept him from pursuing them at
roughly the same rate as his predecessors (granting, of course, that
the Bushes were a bit more intense and reckless). Trump's innovation
has been to come up with an even stupider war: one fought against an
"invisible enemy"; one to be fought not thousands of miles away but
locally; one fought not by trained, expensively equipped volunteer
soldiers but by every working person, with few (if any) defenses;
one fought for no reason other than to make the president look good,
and to help his business supporters make money. Trump's "leadership"
in this reminds me of how eager many generals have often been to
sacrifice foot soldiers to secure pyrrhic victories.
Encouraging the public to transition out of isolation and into the world,
the president is increasingly deploying battlefield rhetoric in asking
everyday Americans to confront a raging coronavirus pandemic that has
already infected 1.3 million people in the U.S. and killed more than
80,000 -- and this week clawed its way into the inner circle of his
"The people of our country should think of themselves as warriors,"
he said during a recent visit to a face mask plant in Arizona. "Our
country has to open."
A day later, reporters at the White House asked the president whether
the new moniker was his way of telling the American people to swallow
the fact that reopening the economy will result in more Covid-19 cases --
and therefore more deaths.
"So I called these people warriors," he responded, gesturing to nurses
gathered behind him. "And I'm actually calling now . . . the nation
warriors. We have to be warriors. We can't keep our country closed down
for years. And we have to do something."
As Leana S Wen explains in
Six flaws in the arguments for reopening, "it's worth the sacrifice
if some people die so that the country has a functioning economy" is "a
false choice; there are ways to safely reopen, and consumer confidence
depends on the reassurance of public health protections." More warrior
The folly of Trump's blame-Beijing coronavirus strategy.
Trump's coronavirus task farce.
The task force is the perfect model of governance for our time, because
it is made up of people who assign tasks to other people, wait for them
to finish, and then assume that somehow, they got it done themselves.
It depends on our modern cult of executive worship, which takes the
fact that certain people have the power to make people below them carry
out their orders and turns it into an innate ability to Get Things Done.
The Democrats' cult of pragmatism: A piece I had missed from March 9,
2020, back when the Democrats still had a presidential primary race, and
the inevitable didn't even look very likely. Indeed, more here on Andrew
Cuomo and Rahm Emmanuel than on the mediocrity who finally snagged the
Charles P Pierce: More than a dozen titles in
his blog caught my eye, but I wanted to link to this one because
it's a piece of the sort of everyday graft the Trump administration
is rife with but rarely gets called out on:
This is just business as usury for this administration*: "Mick
Mulvaney's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau pulled out all the
stops to protect the profits of payday lenders." Some other
Will Americans ever forgive Trump for his heartless lack of compassion?
I rather suspect the answer is mixed. If Trump was able to display the
combination of diligence and compassion that we witnessed from, say,
Rudy Giuliani in the first couple weeks after 9/11 (before he started
reading his polling and decided he deserved a third mayoral term),
his polling would be much higher (although soft, given the likelihood
of a return to form). On the other hand, I imagine that a sizable
chunk of his followers actually likes the idea that he's a cold,
conniving bastard, and while they don't necessarily approve of him
only thinking of himself, they do like the idea that he continues
to piss off those they perceive as their sworn enemies -- and that
matters much more to them than even whether he's relatable.
4 reasons state plans to open up may backfire -- and soon. By the
way, efforts to reopen in South Korea and Germany have already backfired.
See: Nicole Winfield/Vanessa Gera/Amy Forliti:
Reopenings bring new cases in S. Korea, virus fears in Italy.
Democrats should make voting reform a nonnegotiable baseline for the
next stimulus bill: "Universal vote-by-mail is the only way to
ensure free and fair elections in November." Cites Colorado research
showing that mail-in voting "raised turnout more than 10 points among
the most vulnerable demographics, including low-income voters, and
benefited Republicans and Democrats equally." Republicans are unlikely
to believe that the issue is non-partisan -- states with heavy mail-in
voting tend to vote Democrat -- and have staked much of their political
future on various schemes to suppress the vote. The one thing mail-in
voting indisputably does is increase turnout, making elections more
representative of popular will. Anyone who believes in democracy will
take that as a plus, but unfortunately many Republican leaders do not,
and are willing to risk questions about the legitimacy of their wins
when they are based on ever-smaller plebiscites.
Elsewhere, Rupar tweeted one of the week's dumber Trump quotes,
about Pence publicist Katie Miller (also wife of evil Trump gnome
TRUMP: "Katie, she tested very good for a long period of time, and then
all of a sudden she tested positive . . . this is why the whole concept
of tests aren't necessarily great . . . today, I guess, for some reason,
she tested positive."
I noticed this when Rosanne Cash replied:
Once I took a pregnancy test and it was negative for a long time, and
then ALL OF A SUDDEN it was positive and I said what is this whole
concept and then, for some reason, I had a baby.
The absolute absurdity of blanket corporate immunity: "With his new
proposal, McConnell rides to the rescue of America's least imperiled."
Well, there needs to be some form of enforcement of safety practices to
prevent the spread of Covid-19. Torts have always been a last resort to
limit abuses of power by businesses (or anyone else), but they're slow,
expensive, and effectively arbitrary. I don't see how the long-term
threat of lawsuits can be trusted to ensure public safety, but unless
you come up with some more efficient means of enforcement, blanket
immunity is only likely to encourage businesses to abuse their powers
and skirt their responsibilities. Moreover, it's not clear where this
is coming from. At this point, most businesses are much more concerned
with reassuring workers and customers that they're safe to open. On
the other hand, McConnell may have a long-term goal to make it all
but impossible for customers and workers to sue companies, and sees
this as a moment to wedge immunity in. "Never let a crisis go to
waste," and all that.
Thousands will go uninsured in the Covid-19 outbreak because Republicans
rejected Medicaid expansion.
The essential worker trap: "It's hard to get unemployment benefits if
you've been deemed 'essential.'" Indeed, it seems like a lot of the push
to "re-open" the economy is coming from states looking to cut unemployment
The bailout miscalculation that could crash the economy.
A Bay of Pigs-style fiasco in Venezuela.
Bush was worse than Trump. Reaction to Peter Baker:
George W Bush calls for end to pandemic partisanship, where (not
for the first time) Bush proved to be saner, smarter, and more of a
statesman than Trump. Of course, any attempt to rehabilitate Bush --
even if the point is to illuminate how awful Trump is -- isn't worth
the confusion. The fact is that Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Trump form
a series, where each is worse because their predecessors each left
the polity in much worse shape than they found it. Weiss singles out
the Iraq War as proof that Bush was the worst, but my own view is that
Iraq was just a stupid, arrogant afterthought to Bush's real disaster,
which was the decision to invade Afghanistan -- a decision Bush still
rarely gets credit for, because the media campaign was so automatic
that the major people Bush defeated (McCain in the primary, Gore in
the main) would have done exactly the same thing. (Presumably not my
candidate, Ralph Nader. But even Bernie Sanders voted for the War on
Terror; Barbara Lee was the only one with the foresight and fortitude
to vote against the mad rush to war.) Every time I see one of these
attempts at Bush nostalgia, I'm reminded of
the SNL skit where Will Ferrell plays GW Bush and delivers the
truest line ever: "So I just wanted to address my fellow Americans
tonight and remind you guys that I was really bad." Also see:
One should never forget how much severe damage GW Bush did relative
to when he started out -- worst of all was his "War on Terror," which
his successors have extended another dozen years with no sense of a
change of mind, a militarization of the American psyche that has meant
that a generation of Americans have known nothing but vicious insanity,
but his two terms were riddled with atrocious policy, starting with
his tax cuts, ending with the recession caused by years of indulging
Wall Street. Still, you Bush usually had the decency to hide his plans
behind a shroud of lies and doublespeak. Trump has mostly extended
Bush's standard Republican policy directions -- his cruel turn against
immigration is Trump's one major innovation -- what has changed is how
shameless Trump is about his contempt for law, for decency, for the
great majority of people he seeks to trample on.
The unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent in April. The chart
is especially striking, with the unprecedentedly huge instant jump,
from the lowest rate since 1980 to nearly 30% more than the previous
post-1980 high. Even so, the monthly report understates the current
rate, which "is actually 20 percent." (A couple weeks ago I did some
math based on raw figures and came up with 19.2% unemployment. Using
my formula from then, unemployment should be up to about 25.1%
now -- minus whatever small number of people who filed unemployment
claims but have since returned or found new work.)
Flattening the curve isn't good enough.
"Leave no vacancy behind": Mitch McConnell remains laser-focused on
judges amid coronavirus. He understands that Republican control
of the Senate and Presidency are tenuous, but once confirmed judges
serve for life. And while partisan judges cannot legislate, they can
powerfully restrict the ability of the people to make meaningful
changes to law and government. More evidence that the Republicans
are more focused on conserving their power than on letting future
governments serve the will of the people.