Sunday, August 2, 2020


Weekend Roundup

My oldest surviving cousin, Duan Stiner, died on Sunday, due to Covid-19. He was days away from his 93rd birthday. He had been living in a VA center near Tulsa, Oklahoma. The center was locked down in March. He hasn't been able to leave, and our relatives haven't been able to visit, since then. Nonetheless, Covid-19 got into the facility, causing at least 58 cases and 10 deaths (figures I got before Duan died). Duan joined the Army in 1945, spent some time occupying Japan, then got called back for the Korean War in 1950. He never talked much about his Army days (unlike his older brother, Harold, who was an MP and was present for the war crimes trials on Tokyo; Harold died in 2015). Duan was a butcher, first in a grocery store, then he owned his own meat business. When I was young, my parents used to buy a side of beef at a time from him. I think he was the first person I personally knew to die of the disease, although I've written about dozens of more famous people in these pages.

I also found out that Don Bass (77) died last week, but don't know the cause (so he may have been the first). I ran into him often, especially at Peace Center events. He was a talented artist, and always a welcome sight.

More newsworthy individual deaths below. For numbers of the less famous, see At least 151,000 people have died from coronavirus in the US. Worldometer has the US death count at 158,365. (Those links may be volatile.)

Minor formatting change here, as I've eliminated the outer layer of bullets.


Some scattered links this week:

Dean Baker:

  • An economic survival package, not a stimulus package. I could have buried this among the other "stimulus" articles (see Li Zhou), but they're tied to actual negotiations, whereas this is more along the lines of what should be done. Krugman described the downturn as more of an induced coma than a typical recession, a distinction that is lost on people who have one-track minds (like everyone in business). Until the virus is contained and normalized (cured would be nice, but I'm imagining a somewhat more delicate and treacherous equilibrium), talk of restoring growth really misses the point, which is survival -- difficult enough in any case.

  • More thoughts on the post-pandemic economy: GDP is headed down, but are we worse off for that?

    If we do let obsessions with government deficits and debt curtail spending, then we can expect to see a long and harsh recession. . . . And, we also have to recognize that when we have a serious problem of unemployment, the failure to run large deficits is incredibly damaging to the country. Millions of workers will needlessly suffer, as will their families. And the failure is increased when it means not spending in areas that will have long-term benefits for the country, like child care and slowing global warming. It is tragic that deficit hawks are able to do so much harm to our children under the guise of saving our children.

Peter Baker: More than just a tweet: Trump's campaign to undercut democracy.

Jake Bittle: The right's increasingly unhinged fight against Black Lives Matter: "As the movement's popularity surges, the conservative media insists that it is hell-bent on destroying the American way of life."

Charles M Blow: Trump's nakedly political pandemic pivot.

Alleen Brown: Trump's pick to manage public lands has four-decade history of "overt racism" toward native people: Meet William Perry Pendley.

Alexander Burns: Trump attacks an election he is at risk of losing: "Mr Trump has become a heckler in his own government, failing to marshal leaders in Washington to form a robust response to the health and economic crises. Instead, he is raising doubts about holding the election on time."

Katelyn Burns: The NYPD unit that snatched a protester off the street has been accosting people for years.

Alexia FernŠndez Campbell: A small federal agency focused on preventing industrial disasters is on life support. Trump wants it gone: "The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is without enough voting members, and its investigations are stuck in limbo."

Matthew Cappucci/Mustafa Salim: Baghdad soars to 125 blistering degrees, its highest temperature on record. Also record-high temperatures elsewhere in the Middle East.

Steve Coll: Is the Postal Service being manipulated to help Trump get reŽlected?

Summer Concepcion: Cotton's office denies he believes slavery was a 'necessary evil' after backlash over remark: Maybe if he wasn't such a reactionary racist, he wouldn't be so often misunderstood? Still, it's hard to be any kind of conservative in America without having lots of racist skeletons in your closet. Maybe that's why so many conservatives move them to the front porch, and celebrate them.

James Downie: Republicans' pandemic blunders keep piling higher.

Katherine Eban: How Jared Kushner's secret testing plan "went poof into thin air": "This spring, a team working under the president's son-in-law produced a plan for aggressive, coordinated national COVID-19 response that could have brought the pandemic under control. So why did the White House spike it in favor of a shambolic 50-state-response?" Or, as David Atkins commented on this piece: Trump and Kushner should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Alex Emmons: Democrats unveil draft foreign policy platform with promises to end "forever wars" and "regime change": however, blanket support for Israel makes it harder to achieve those goals.

Richard Fausset/Rick Rojas: John Lewis, a man of 'unbreakable perseverance,' is laid to rest: I'm afraid I found all the pomp surrounding the death and funeral of John Lewis a bit disconcerting. Such events only come about when someone has a political legacy they want to build up -- usually around a president, most recently/similarly someone like John McCain. I don't actually have much of an opinion about Lewis, but he does provide a reminded that the fight for civil rights isn't over, and the struggle for equality still has a long ways to go. Still, it was a big deal, all the more conspicuous because of the times (e.g., see the picture of Obama delivering a eulogy to a more-than-half-empty church). More related to the funeral:

John Feffer: The no-trust world. The first point George Brockway made in his brilliant The End of Economic Man (1991) was that nothing works in modern society without trust. Indeed, it's impossible to get anything done when you constantly have to scan 360 degrees for potential threats. (E.g., imagine trying to do simple reconstruction projects in war-torn Iraq.) Of course, it's even harder to defend against an invisible virus, especially where you can't trust people around you to follow recommended practices. Karen Greenberg's article below pairs well with this one: a big part of the reason we an trust no one is that powerful people, like but not exclusively Trump, are rarely held accountable for their acts, let alone their accidents.

Conor Friedersdorf: Forging a right-left coalition may be the only way to end the War on Drugs. Link to Atlantic article therein, but I'm up against my article limit. Quote sets up a 1991 debate between black liberal Charlie Rangel and white reactionary William F Buckley Jr, quoting Rangel in favor of escalating the war on drugs:

In fact, Rangel clarified, if somebody wants to sell drugs to a child, they should fear "that they will be arrested and go to jail for the rest of their natural life. That's what I'm talking about when I say fear." Then he suggested that America should tap the generals who won the Gulf War to intensify the War on Drugs. "What we're missing: to find a take-charge general like Norman Schwarzkopf, like Colin Powell, to coordinate some type of strategy so that America, who has never run away from a battle, will not be running away from this battle," he said. "Let's win this war against drugs the same way we won it in the Middle East."

That Gulf War "victory" doesn't look so great now, though the War on Drugs may have fared even worse. Neither failed for lack of tough guys like Schwarzkopf. Both were severely tarnished by the arrogance and racism that was baked into their execution, and were utterly ruined by the contempt and carelessness the enforcers had for the people they impacted. Here's another quote:

Had the drug war ended back in the early 1990s, younger Millennials would have been spared a policy that empowered gangs, fueled bloody wars for drug territory in American cities, ravaged Latin America, enriched narco cartels, propelled the AIDS epidemic, triggered police militarization, and contributed more than any other policy to racial disparities in national and local incarceration.

Also note that while Buckley and other libertarians have criticized the War on Drugs, they've never spent any political capital doing so. The one issue conservatives are serious about is privileging the rich, and that makes them comfortable with repression as a tool to protect the established order. So while it's possible that the left might pick up a few right-wing votes to decriminalize drugs, I don't expect them to be much help.

Masha Gessen: Why America feels like a post-Soviet state.

Shirin Ghaffary: The TikTok-Trump drama, explained.

Karen Greenberg: Can the pandemic bring accountability back to this country?

Glenn Greenwald: The US-supported coup in Bolivia continues to produce repression and tyranny, while revealing how US media propaganda works.

Daniel A Hanley: Another Trump legacy: Spreading price discrimination on the Internet: "Consumers are already feeling the pain of the president reversing net neutrality." Two prominent offenders mentioned here are Cox, which we use, and AT&T, which has made a big push to break into Cox's cable monopoly here.

Shane Harris: DHS compiled 'intelligence reports' on journalists who published leaked documents.

Doug Henwood: We have no choice but to be radical.

Sean Illing: "It's ideologue meets grifter": How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible. Interview with David Rohde, who wrote a long New Yorker profile of Barr.

Roge Karma: We train police to be warriors -- and then send them out to be social workers. A breakdown of training time (840 total hours) here shows that 20% goes for "firearm skills, self-defense, and use of force." A breakdown of actual time spent by police shows that only a tiny fraction of time is spent dealing with violent time, and that's mostly taken up by things like interviewing witnesses. Given that a large percentage of police are former military, this training bias is probably even more warped -- and given how many former military suffer from PTSD, the bias could be even more dangerous.

Annie Karni/Katie Rogers: Like father, like son: President Trump lets others mourn: "Whether he is dealing with the loss of a family member or the deaths of nearly 150,000 Americans in a surging pandemic, President Trump almost never displays empathy in public. He learned it from his father."

Ankush Khardori: There's never been a better time to be a white-collar criminal: "Thanks to the Trump administration's signature mix of incompetence and corruption, America is knee-deep in fraud and corporate malfeasance."

Bonnie Kristian: Trump's reasoning is bad, but withdrawing troops from Germany is a good idea.

Paul Krugman:

  • The nightmare on Pennsylvania avenue: "Trump is the kind of boss who can't do the job -- and won't go away.

  • The cult of selfishness is killing America: "The right has made irresponsible behavior a key principle."

  • Why can't Trump's America be like Italy? "On the coronavirus, the 'sick man of Europe' puts us to shame." The "sick man of Europe" quip was commonly applied to the Ottoman Empire in its last century, as European powers were chipping away at its borders and demanding "capitulations" to give them extraterritorial rights within the Empire. I've never heard it used to refer to anyone else. Italy is often derided for its unstable governments and unequal economy, but Greece and Portugal are more often viewed as the bottom of the barrel. If there is a "sick man of Europe" these days, it must be Donald Trump, who's personally much more rooted in Europe than in America.

  • What you don't know can't hurt Trump: "Slow the testing down," he said, and it's happening."

  • Republicans keep flunking microbe economics: "Getting other people sick isn't an 'individual choice.'" Henry Farrell has a comment at Crooked Timber, more focused on economists than Republicans. My own theory is that most economists do everything possible to view everything through their own prism, which is single-mindedly focused on increasing growth. The problem with the pandemic is that it's causing a lot of people to consider other factors, like health and safety, and that messes with the economists' heads. It also messes with Republicans, who basically agree with the economists but tweak their measurements to only really consider the effects of policy on making the rich richer.

Michelle Ye Hee Lee/Jacob Bogage: Postal Service backlog sparks worries that ballot deliveries could be delayed in November.

Jill Lepore: How the Simulmatics Corporation invented the future: Mostly on the data-driven 1960 presidential election.

Nancy LeTourneau:

  • How white supremacists are using protests to fuel racial tensions. It's widely felt, especially among Trump's campaign advisers, that playing up the protests, and especially provoking violence in/around them, will produce a backlash that will benefit Trump and his ilk.

  • Trump's eight potentially impeachable offenses in six months: If we've learned anything about impeachment under Trump, it's that it isn't a very useful process. The two-thirds supermajority rule makes it impossible to convict in the Senate, and the simple majority rule in the House makes it too each to impeach. Maybe that could work if the complaint wasn't political, but everything's political these days, so nothing works. As this list here indicates, it's easy to come up with a list of essentially political charges, and it's also fruitless. What might have worked better was if Congress had reserved to itself the right to overrule executive actions by simple majority, but somehow we've gotten into the ridiculous where Trump can simply veto Congressional resolutions (like ones limiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, or military interventions in Syria). That puts us back at needing a two-thirds supermajority, which is well nigh impossible. On the other hand, the thing I find most disturbing about this list isn't its pointlessness. It's that a lot of these things aren't very good charges. Indeed, number four ("abuse of power in foreign affairs") insists on policies that Trump is right not to have followed ("willingness to ignore China's treatment of the Uighurs in exchange for help with farmers during trade negotiations" and "totally ignored Russia placing bounties on the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan").

Martin Longman: The key to a real Democratic landslide: Better rural performance: I'm sympathetic to this position, partly because with all the factors stacked against them Democrats have to win landslides to be effective -- Obama's margins clearly weren't sufficient, and the popular pluralities of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton didn't even score as wins -- but also because I believe that Republicans are doing a terrible job of serving rural and small-town voters, and Democrats could do a lot better, so why not try harder. Kansas has long thought of itself as a rural state, but the percentage has been declining steadily, at least since my father moved to Wichita in the 1940s. According to the first measure I found, the rural percentage in 2018 was 31.5%, but I doubt the farm percentage is even 10%. (There are 58,500 farms in Kansas. If 4 people lived on each, that would come to 8%. The nationwide farm population is 2%.)

Carlos Lozada: Trump tried to shut him down, but Robert Mueller was his own worst enemy. Review of Jeffrey Toobin's new book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump.

Eric Lutz:

Nick Martin: It was insane to restart sports in America.

William Marx: Far-right groups now pose the greatest terrorist threat in the US and Europe. Links to: Jihadist plots used to be US and Europe's biggest terrorist threat. Now it's the far right. And that's just freelance terror, not the kind practiced by "law enforcement" organizations.

Ian Milhiser:

Bennett Minton: The lies our textbooks told my generation of Virginians about slavery.

Max Moran: The 277 policies for which Biden need not ask permission: "As president, Joe Biden could take action on hundreds of policies without having to go through Congress. The Biden-Sanders unity task force provides a map."

Sara Morrison/Rebecca Heilweil: How Trump and his son helped make a Covid-19 conspiracy theorist go viral in a matter of hours.

Nicole Narea:

Ella Nilsen:

  • The slow-motion 2020 election disaster states are scrambling to prevent, explained.

  • Joe Biden will announce his running mate soon. Here's who's on the list. Not something I spend much time thinking about, although I still think Elizabeth Warren is a cut above the rest on two major counts: she's a fearless campaigner, and while that isn't especially reassuring in a presidential candidate, it's a quality that stacks up especially well against Trump and Pence; and she simply knows a lot more about policy than anyone else. She's also likely to be a shrewd judge of personnel, if she gets the chance. The last two Republican gave their VPs (Cheney and Pence) decisive impact on staffing, but Clinton and Obama worked through their own personal staffs (who often gave them limited bad choices). Beyond Warren, Gretchen Whitmer would be a sensible pick, helping in a key state where she's currently very popular. I don't see any advantage in picking a black woman: Biden has very solid black support, but he also has substantial support from whites who might take exception to a black VP, so why run that risk. Only one I have any specific objection to is Susan Rice, who was a consistent hawk under Obama and a leading player in all of his foreign policy mistakes. The idea that her selection would allow Biden to focus on domestic policy while she runs foreign is one of the worst advanced here. Still, there isn't much reason to think that anyone else on the list would be much better than Rice on foreign policy issues -- they've just had less opportunity to discredit themselves.

Osita Nwanevu: The 2020 election doesn't really matter to Republicans.

Helaine Olen: The CFPB once defended consumers. Thanks to Trump, it now helps companies prey on them instead.

Vijay Prashad/Alejandro Bejarano: 'We will coup whoever we want': Elon Musk and the overthrow of democracy in Bolivia.

Laurence Ralph: Countries with levels of police brutality comparable to that in the US are called 'police states': That's the title in the link from Attention to the Unseen; better than "To protect and serve: Global lessons in police reform." There's a chart here of "Number of people killed by the police" per ten million residents, and the US is only in second place, barely above Iraq and just below Democratic Republic of the Congo, but no other country is close (only Luxembourg is more than 5% of the US rate, and Luxembourg is so small that its 16.9 rate works out to be 1 unfortunate person).

Catherine Rampell: Trump knows he's going to lose. He's already salting the earth behind him. Part of her evidence is Fed nominee Judy Shelton. Rampell wrote more about her here: Yes, Trump's latest Fed pick is that bad. Here's why.

Diane Ravitch: How Trump politicized schools reopening, regardless of safety.

Katie Rogers/Maggie Haberman: Kayleigh McEnany heckles the press. Is that all?

Theodore Schleifer: Tech billionaire Peter Thiel is searching for new political allies. He's found one in Kansas: Thiel's spent almost $1 million on Kris Kobach's Senate primary race. The only other candidate Thiel has supported so far this year is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). More on Kansas and/or elections:

Dylan Scott: Herman Cain, 2012 presidential contender, dies after contracting Covid-19: He was 74, a former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, one of the most prominent black Republicans, a major Trump surrogate. He attended Trump's Tulsa rally, signed his liability waiver, and was diagnosed a week later. More on Cain:

Robert J Shapiro: Trump is wrong again: US manufacturing is not recovering.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Demon seed.

Matt Taibbi: Kansas should go f--- itself: Review of Thomas Frank's new book, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism. I have the book, and expect to read it soon -- maybe then I'll be able to figure out the confusion from Taibbi's review. I've read most of Frank's books, from What's the Matter With Kansas? (which has left a bad taste, mostly because it seems mostly to have been read and taken to heart by culture war conservatives, who have taken it as a dare to hold Republicans responsible for their promises) through Listen, Liberal (which perhaps could be blamed for exposing the Clintons as liars and frauds, although there's little evidence that the people who took that insight and voted for Trump got it from reading a book). Taibbi also cites a recent review by Jeff Madrick: Why the working class votes against its economic interests, which could be of Frank's work, but actually refers to Robert B Reich: The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, and Zephyr Teachout: Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom From Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money.

Adam Taylor: Trump ordered federal forces to quell Portland protests. But the chaos ended as soon as they left.

Alexander S Vindman: Coming forward ended my career. I still believe doing what's right matters.

Alex Ward: 5 real steps the US could take to help Uighurs in China: The first one that's missing is: why? It's certainly not because the US has any sympathy with or concern for Muslims in the far west of China, even as part of a more general commitment to human rights. To demonstrate the latter, one would have to make a show of supporting the Palestinians against Israeli occupation. One suspects the US of bad faith, because the US has rarely shown anything but bad faith on human rights. Otherwise, the US would support international institutions that tackle human rights issues, like the ICC. The US can't even be bothered to support the WHO. And the "real steps" listed here are straight from the Cold War toolkit being retargeted at China, for reasons only known to Trump and Pompeo. For more on them, see the comment under Robin Wright, below.

Robin Wright: Why Trump will never win his new cold war with China. Couple things here. First, the notion that the US "won" the Cold War with Russia is flat-out wrong, and misguided too. I've compared it to a wrestling match where one fighter has a heart attack, then the other pounces on top to claim the win. The people under the Soviet Union's thumb simply gave up their system of government, and really didn't get much from the West for their trouble. (Russia was so ravaged under Yeltsin that average life expectancy dropped 10 years in less time than that. Putin's popularity is to no small extent based on arresting that decline.) One striking aspect is that countries the US had totally ignored, like Albania and Mongolia, fell without so much as a funny glance from the US. The ones that didn't fall were the ones the US fought wars with (Korea, Vietnam), blockaded (Cuba), and China (both, but somewhat different), so there's no evidence that the Cold War's most aggressive tools achieved anything, other than to make the US look like a public menace. China might also have fallen, but the ruling party held on and imposed top-down reforms that radically grew the Chinese economy -- much faster and more equitably than any capitalist regime had achieved. Second thing is that while the Soviet Union saw itself as leading a worldwide workers revolution, China is just concerned with China. Their investments abroad promote their businesses, mostly at home. While they like the idea of garnering good will, they don't pose any threat to the regimes they do business with. As such, there's no demand for a global capitalist alliance to limit their power, let alone to tell them how to run their own damn country. On the other hand, the US is always telling its "allies" and clients how to run their countries and how to mistreat their people -- start by looking up Washington Consensus for examples. Article explains some of the ways China has outmaneuvered typical Cold War tactics like sanctions. It doesn't even dignify the neocons' unipolar military fantasies with a rebuttal, but well before his death in 2010, Chalmers Johnson wrote about how China could easily disable America's advanced weapons systems by "launching a dumptruck full of gravel into space" (destroying every satellite). The fact is that America's military can't win in Aghanistan, let alone take on a vastly more sophisticated foe like China. The only question here is how stupid Trump and Pompeo really are. More on China:

Matthew Yglesias:

  • Thursday's historically bad economic growth numbers, explained. Subhed tries to reassure us -- "It's not as bad as it looks" -- but that vastly understates how bad the chart looks. Real GDP dropped about 5% in Q1, most of which occurred before the lockdown. The Q2 GDP drop, which picked up part of the original lockdown, the slow reopening, but not much of the further backpedaling as cases rose to a second peak, is a staggering 33%. That's "not just the worst on record, but the worst on record by a large margin." This suggests to me that, given that the drop in employment is only half that much, we're seeing a huge drop in productivity in addition to lost jobs. Offhand, that makes intuitive sense, given the number of people working from home, the overhead of masks and sanitation, and the pretty severe dip in demand. But Yglesias focuses more on how the numbers are cooked up. That leads him to the hypothesis that in Q3 "we're probably going to see a historically amazing growth number when expressed as an annualized rate," and that "Trump will doubly brag that it's the best economy ever, but of course it won't be, any more than Q2 was the worst economy." Still, one shouldn't soft-peddle the notion that this is the worst economy ever. The only reason it hasn't been as painful as the Great Depression is that Congress (mostly thanks to Democrats) moved quickly to shore up incomes (and the Fed moved even faster to bail out banks and stockholders). Take that away (as many Republicans want to do) and it won't be long before we feel just how bad this economy is. More on this economy:

  • The real stakes in the David Shor saga.

Li Zhou: Senate Republicans have a new stimulus bill. Here's what's in it. Author also wrote, with Ella Nilsen: Senate Republicans' dramatically smaller unemployment insurance proposal, explained, and Millions of people will see a sharp drop in their unemployment benefits because Congress failed to act..