Sunday, September 13, 2020


Weekend Roundup

I picked this up on Facebook, forwarded by a couple of friends. I thought it might do more good here:

If you're active in the BLM movement (or even if you're just Black), you're getting posts on your feed about Biden and Harris's pro-police records.

If you're an environmentalist, you're getting posts on Biden's past support of fossil fuels.

If you're LGBT, you're reading articles about Harris defending California's policy of not providing gender reassignment surgery to trans inmates.

If you want universal health care, there's a post on your page about how Bernie was robbed and Biden is in Big Pharma's pocket.

If you're for immigrant rights, there is an article in your top 20 right now about Obama being the "deporter in chief."

This is especially true if you live in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Arizona.

None of these articles are wrong. Most of them lack context, and may err by omission, but they're not fake news. The organizations paying Facebook to show them to you, on the other hand, or paying "influencers" to share them . . . those are fake. They don't care about Black lives, or the environment, or trans people, or health care, or immigrants. They only want one thing.

They want you to not vote in November. Or vote third party, which is the same thing.

Whether it's a troll cubicle farm in Novgorod or a right wing think tank in Richmond, microtargeting allows them to aim directly at your feels and feed your outrage, disgust and sense of powerlessness.

They can't get you to vote for Trump, but they might get you to not vote against him.

Don't fall for it. Elect Biden. Flip the Senate. Then get back to work in 2021. Elect more Bernies and Warrens and AOCs and Jamaals in the primaries. Keep moving the Overton window. Scare the lukewarm Democrats you've just elected into doing the right thing. Hold Biden to the platform commitments he made to Sanders delegates, and push him to go beyond.

Because unlike Republicans, Democrats CAN be steered, persuaded, shamed, flattered, or convinced to take action. Obama didn't start out favoring gay marriage, or cannabis legalization. Hell, LBJ wasn't for desegregation, until he was.

Put Trump where he belongs, in the hands of the SDNY attorneys. Let Ruth Bader Ginsberg retire. Vote. And wear your mask. Thanks.

Copy. Paste. Speak the truth to the world.

We're less than two months away from the election. An insane amount of money is being raised and spent to sway that election, and it will be used to try to manipulate you in all kinds of ways. Beware that most of the money comes from rich people with their own private agendas -- indeed, a lot of it is coming through "dark money" fronts intended to avoid transparency and accountability. Misinformation and dirty tricks are likely to come so fast and furious you'll never be able to sort them out. On the other hand, you really only have to know a few things to decide this election: we live in a very complex world which requires expertise and trustworthiness to function; trust depends on respect and empathy for other people; a democratic government ("of, by, and for the people") is essential because it is the only basis for fair and just management of this complexity. Republicans have repeatedly failed to run competent government, partly because they are hold many people in contempt, and partly because they see political power only in terms of their ability to reward their donors and lock in their own power. While conservatives have failed for many years, they have rarely exposed their own incompetence as blatantly and hopelessly as they have under the leadership and direction of Donald Trump. He is a disaster and an embarrassment. He and his party deserve to be driven from the halls of power, and the only way to do that is to elect Democrats: Joe Biden for president, and the other Democrats running for Congress and state and local office. The more complete the rout, the better. It's easy to say this is the most important election of our lifetimes, but it may be more accurate to say that if we fail to take our country back this time, this may be one of the last chances we get.


Some scattered links this week:

Danielle Allen: The flawed genius of the Constitution: "The document counted my great-great-grandfather as three-fifths of a free person. But the Framers don't own the version we live by today. We do. The document is our responsibility now."

Nancy J Altman: Trump really does have a plan to destroy Social Security. The linchpin here is eliminating the payroll taxes that fund Social Security. Trump has already suspended collection of those taxes until the end of the year, producing a short-term stimulus and a slightly longer-term liability. The idea is that when the bill comes due, people will feel the pinch, and demand relief from the tax. As half of the tax is deducted from workers' checks, they would see a slight increase in take-home pay, but few would manage to save enough to make up for the eventual loss of retirement income. The other half is paid by companies, who could use the savings to pay workers more, but more likely will pocket the profit. Franklin Roosevelt thought that the regressive payroll tax would protect the program against predatory business efforts, but he didn't anticipate the short-sighted nihilism of Trump's generation. By the way, Glenn Kessler tries to argue that Trump has no such plan: see Biden campaign attacks a Trump Social Security 'plan' that does not exist. The gist of Kessler's argument seems to be that Trump says so many incoherent things, and does so little to clarify them, that you can't attribute anything as deliberate as a plan to him.

Kate Aronoff: Trump's fire sale of public lands for oil and gas drillers: "The Bureau of Land Management is rushing to auction off sites ahead of a potential Biden presidency."

Peter Baker: More than ever, Trump casts himself as the defender of White America.

Katrin Bennhold: Trump emerges as inspiration for Germany's far right.

Megan Cassella: 'A tale of 2 recessions': As rich Americans get richer, the bottom half struggles. This goes far in explaining why the Republicans have no interest in another stimulus bill, while the Democrats see the need for something much more dramatic:

Recent economic data and surveys have laid bare the growing divide. Americans saved a stunning $3.2 trillion in July, the same month that more than 1 in 7 households with children told the U.S. Census Bureau they sometimes or often didn't have enough food. More than a quarter of adults surveyed have reported paying down debt faster than usual, according to a new AP-NORC poll, while the same proportion said they have been unable to make rent or mortgage payments or pay a bill.

And while the employment rate for high-wage workers has almost entirely recovered -- by mid-July it was down just 1 percent from January -- it remains down 15.4 percent for low-wage workers, according to Harvard's Opportunity Insights economic tracker.

Zak Cheney-Rice: Police riots and the limits of electoral solutions.

Matthew Choi: Trump says Pentagon chiefs are accommodating weapons makers. Once in a while he goes off on an antiwar lark, without recognizing any discrepancy from his actual record. Related:

Jane Chong: Donald Trump, constitutional grift, and John Yoo: An overly long review of Yoo's Defender in Chief: Donald Trump's Fight for Presidential Power. You may remember Yoo as the lawyer in GW Bush's White House who came up with the most incredible legal rationalizations for Cheney's torture policy. "There isn't a lot more to Yoo's argument than his insistence that executive energy is a good and constitutional thing." Still, he usually waits until a Republican is in the White House before deciding for dictatorship.

Jane Coaston: The pro-Trump, anti-left Patriot Prayer group, explained.

Jelani Cobb: Our long, forgotten history of election-related violence: "President Trump has sparked dangerous lawlessness, but killing and destruction linked to political antagonisms are nothing new for this country." Still, I don't find it very reassuring that his first example dates from 1856.

Dan Diamond: Trump officials interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19: "The politically appointed HHS spokesperson and his team demanded and received the right to review CDC's scientific reports to health professionals."

Anne Diebel: Trumps on the couch: Review of Mary L Trump's Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man. Sooner or later, Donald Trump will no longer darken our doors, and from that point on I'll have no desire to ever read about him again. Indeed, the only one of a dozen books I've read to date that reveals much worth knowing about Trump is TV critic James Poniewozik's Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America, and that's because he bothered to sort out the meaning of so-called "reality TV" -- something I've never had the slightest interest in actually watching. The only other book that seems like it might be enlightening is his nieces's psychobiography, and that's largely because she takes a broader and deeper view of his family.

Jason Ditz: Biden says stay in Mideast, increase military spending: Well, that's not exactly what he said -- the only exact quote here is "forever wars have to end," but he isn't acknowledging that what makes them "forever" is America's military footprint in the Middle East. Ditz's subhed is also an exaggeration: "Biden wants to refocus on fighting Russia." He said that NATO has been "worried as hell about our failure to confront Russia," which could be ominous but is probably just a reflection on Trump's passive-aggressive stance. Still, statements like this give Trump some room to paint Biden as the warmonger in the campaign --l admittedly less credible than the same charge against Hillary Clinton, but the track record is that both have supported wars and the military pretty much in lockstep.

Nayantara Dutta: Neighbors are gathering online to give and get things they need right now: "In 'Buy Nothing' and gifting groups around the country, communities are connecting over free stuff." This is something I'd like to see happening, not least because I'm one of those guys (my wife calls us hoarders) who can't abide the idea of throwing things away that might be useful to other people, but who's too lazy to find people to give them to. I could imagine a neighborhood online exchange for browsing and ordering, with delivery so you don't have to go in to shop, and pickup of anything you care to pass on. You'd need a warehouse, a computer system, some sorters and deliverers, and someone would have to make decisions about recycling or trashing items that nobody wants. An open source software project could service many of these, and possibly add higher level interchanges to move surplus items into other locations with more needs. You could skim some stuff off to sell on the free market, and possibly finance some of the operation that way.

Steve Early/Suzanne Gordon: Under Trump, military veterans and service members have been 'losers': Trump's Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wants "to trim $2 billion allocated for direct care for 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees, and dependents over the next five years." Gordon is the author of a book, Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation's Veterans.

Tim Elfrink: Police shot Portland slaying suspect without warning or trying to arrest him first, witness says. Michael Reinoehl was a suspect in the shooting of a pro-Trump "Patriot Prayer" counter-protester in Portland, making it hard to determine whether the shooting had been in defense (of self or others). By the way, Aaron Rupar quotes Trum on this: "This guy was a violent criminal, and the US Marshals killed him. And I'll tell you something -- that's the way it has to be. There has to be retribution." The thread I pulled this from disputes that federal marshals were the ones who killed Reinoehl. Dean Baker comments further: "I guess courts and trials are too complicated for little Donnie Boy to understand." As Richard Silverstein summed up this story, Trump urges summary execution of protesters.

Tom Engelhardt: The great, great fall, or American carnage from a pandemic President.

John Feffer: Trump and the troops: "The alternative to Trump is not the glorification of military service. It's promoting the kind of service that gets fewer people killed."

Thomas Frank: We need to reclaim populism from the right. It has a long, proud leftwing history. Excerpt from Frank's recent book, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, which I recently read, and generally liked. As a Kansan, I've spent a fair amount of time reading about the People's Party, and for that matter the Socialist Party (which one had a significant foothold in southeast Kansas). I appreciate Frank's brief history of the 1896 and 1936 elections. I do, however, think that there is a significant difference between the "liberal anti-populists" Frank attacks in the modern Democratic Party and the "anti-populism" of 1896 and 1936, and that difference matters going forward. I'll also note that part of the problem in 1896 was that silver wasn't a very good answer to the deflationary pressures of the time -- the Greenback Party of the 1870s was actually on a better track.

Andrew Freedman/Timothy Bella: Western wildfires break records as devastating toll on lives and homes begins to emerge.

Stanley B Greenberg: How Trump is losing his base: "Focus groups with working-class and rural voters show the deep health care crisis in America, and trouble for Trump's re-election." Makes sense, but the polls are showing Trump has a very consistent level of support, so if he's losing base votes, how is he compensating? Alexander Sammon argues that Trump's making up his losses among seniors with Latino votes -- see: The Biden-Trump demographic switcheroo.

Sue Halpern: How the Trump campaign's mobile app is collecting massive amounts of voter data. I didn't even know such a thing existed, but of course it does -- Biden has one, also, and the contrast is revealing:

By contrast, the new Biden app still collects data on users, but it outlines the specific uses of that data and doesn't automatically collect the e-mail and phone numbers of users' friends and family. "Unlike the Biden app, which seeks to provide users with awareness and control of the specific uses of their data, the Trump app collects as much as it can using an opt-out system and makes no promises as to the specific uses of that data," Samuel Woolley, the director of the propaganda research project at the University of Texas's Center for Media Engagement, told me. "They just try to get people to turn over as much as possible."

Also note:

The policy also notes that the campaign will be collecting information gleaned from G.P.S. and other location services, and that users will be tracked as they move around the Internet. Users also agree to give the campaign access to the phone's Bluetooth connection, calendar, storage, and microphone, as well as permission to read the contents of their memory card, modify or delete the contents of the card, view the phone status and identity, view its Wi-Fi connections, and prevent the phone from going to sleep. These permissions give the Trump data operation access to the intimate details of users' lives, the ability to listen in on those lives, and to follow users everywhere they go. It's a colossal -- and essentially free -- data-mining enterprise. As Woolley and his colleague Jacob Gursky wrote in MIT Technology Review, the Trump 2020 app is "a voter surveillance tool of extraordinary power."

I learned this firsthand after downloading the Trump 2020 app on a burner phone I bought in order to examine it, using an alias and a new e-mail address. Two days later, the President sent me a note, thanking me for joining his team. Lara Trump invited me (for a small donation) to become a Presidential adviser. Eric Trump called me one of his father's "FIERCEST supporters from the beginning." But the messages I began getting from the Trump campaign every couple of hours were sent not only to the name and address I'd used to access the app. They were also sent to the e-mail address and name associated with the credit card I'd used to buy the phone and its SIM card, neither of which I had shared with the campaign. Despite my best efforts, they knew who I was and where to reach me.

Rebecca Heilweil: Right-wing media thrives on Facebook. Whether it rules is more complicated.

Patrick Hingsley: Fire destroys most of Europe's largest refugee camp, on Greek island of Lesbos.

Umair Irfan: The orange skies and smoky air from Western wildfires, explained: "Air pollution may be the most dangerous element of the massive fires." Also: "Unprecedented": What's behind the California, Oregon, and Washington wildfires. More:

John Ismay: At least 37 million people have been displaced by America's War on Terror: A new report from Brown University's Costs of War project. "That figure exceeds those displaced by conflict since 1900, the authors say, with the exception of World War II." Also:

Sarah Jeong: The Battle of Portland: "How mass protests against racist police brutality sparked a historic federal crackdown on dissent." Extensive report.

The responsibility to de-escalate the conflict lay on the side that had the guns, rather than the side that was hurling eggs by the carton. But the feds were being directed by officials who were ranting at Congress about violent anarchists and a president who was calling the dweebiest city in America a "beehive of terrorists."

Fred Kaplan: Is America in the early stages of armed insurgency? Counterinsurgency strategist David Kilcullen thinks so. I think there is a lot of potential for isolated violence from the right, certainly if Trump loses, perhaps as likely if he wins. The big uncertainty is how Trump, Republicans, and their propaganda network responds to the violence -- the full-throated support given for Kyle Rittenhouse is chilling, even hard to imagine a mere four years ago.

Aishvarya Kavi: 5 takeaways from Rage, Bob Woodward's new book about Trump: Bob Woodward's second book on Trump drops on Sept. 15, so the press is awash with publicity leaks. Like 2018's Fear, was based on personal interviews, its title reduced to a four-letter word the subject can relate to. This seems like the piece to start with. The big revelation appears to be that Trump was able to speak knowledgeably and coherently about the coronavirus threat in early February, at a time when he was downplaying it publicly and doing nothing to reduce the threat. Many people blame Woodward for not reporting what he knew at the time, suggesting the news might have helped save lives. Of course, saving lives isn't Woodward's idea of good journalism. Selling books is. Here are Kavi's 5 takeaways:

  • Mr. Trump minimized the risks of the coronavirus to the American public early in the year.
  • Two of the president's top officials thought he was "dangerous" and considered speaking out publicly. Jim Mattis and Dan Coats. "Ultimately neither official spoke out."
  • Mr. Trump repeatedly denigrated the U.S. military and his top generals.
  • When asked about the pain "Black people feel in this country," Mr. Trump was unable to express empathy.
  • Mr. Woodward gained insight into Mr. Trump's relationship with the leaders of North Korea and Russia.

Offhand, I wouldn't rate any of these are breakthrough insights, but that's about par for Woodward, who regularly gets too close to his subjects to see them clearly. Other Rage pieces:

Ibram X Kendi: The violent defense of white male supremacy.

Glenn Kessler: Trump keeps bragging about imaginary auto plants in swing states.

Jen Kirby: The UK threatens to renege on the Brexit deal it signed with the EU just a year ago.

Ezra Klein: Black Republicans, Donald Trump, and America's "George Floyd moment": Interview with historian Leah Wright Rigueur, author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican.

John Knefel: Police and racist vigilantes: Even worse than you think.

Nicholas Kristof: 'We're no. 28! And dropping!': "A measure of social progress finds that the quality of life has dropped in America over the last decade, even as it has risen almost everywhere else."

The newest Social Progress Index, shared with me before its official release Thursday morning, finds that out of 163 countries assessed worldwide, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than when the index began in 2011. And the declines in Brazil and Hungary were smaller than America's.

"The data paint an alarming picture of the state of our nation, and we hope it will be a call to action," Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor and the chair of the advisory panel for the Social Progress Index, told me. "It's like we're a developing country."

The index, inspired by research of Nobel-winning economists, collects 50 metrics of well-being -- nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education and more -- to measure quality of life. Norway comes out on top in the 2020 edition, followed by Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. South Sudan is at the bottom, with Chad, Central African Republic and Eritrea just behind.

What Brazil and Hungary have in common with the US is far-right government. That they've suffered a bit less than the US is probably because those far-right governments have been hegemonic for shorter times: the US has been controlled by conservative Republicans (and the occasional ineffective neoliberal Democrat) since 1980, so inequality has progressed further, especially in eating into the social fabric. Porter is wrong to say the US is like "a developing country." Developing countries are developing -- making progress, even if fitfully. The US is a devolving country, its industries devoured by predatory capitalists, its workers marginalized, its society wracked by fear and loathing. It's still in the top quarter of the list, because it was once on top, but declining steadily -- maybe never to the point of the bottom rung, of countries that aren't even developing. They are mired in war, which is even more corrosive than private equity. On the other hand, the right's fascination with guns and private militias suggests that too could befall us.

Paul Krugman:

Claire Lampen: The Justice Department is reportedly trying to shield Trump from a rape lawsuit. E Jean Carroll claims that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room 25 years ago. She sued Trump for libel, and a court ordered him to provide a DNA sample and deposition. The DOJ intervention has stopped the case, at least for now.

Rob Larson: A quick guide to what is going on with the economy: A pretty substantial review up through July.

Eric Levitz:

  • The conservative case for organized labor: Interview with Oren Cass, a former Mitt Romney adviser who runs the think tank American Compass. Occasionally you run across Republican operatives who think that the Party needs to provide some economic aid for its working class voters, but those aren't the conservative ideologues who control the party. On the other hand, I don't see labor leaders abandoning their agenda to use government to extend worker rights -- unlike Samuel Gompers, who before the New Deal opposed laws regulating things like child labor because he felt they disincentivized workers from joining his union. One can imagine a few conservatives accepting unions as preferale to government regulation, but only the most elite-oriented unions are willing to overlook masses of non-union workers dragging the labor market down. And most conservatives are so invested in the notion that owners should wield absolute power that they're unwilling to consider any kind of power-sharing arrangement. Also note:

  • The GOP is no longer the pro-business party. Levitz is one of New York most dependable left-wing writers, so he's on a rather strange kick now. But sure, business has actually done much better with Democratic presidents than with Republican ones. Clinton was especially proud of that fact, and that's probably why they feel so good about raking in all those lucrative speaking deals. It's also true that Obama, Hillary Clinton, and now Biden have been raising more money than their Republican opponents. On the other hand, Republicans still have a lot of business support, especially in old, reactionary and/or predatory industries, especially among capitalists who are more focused on power than wealth.

    To be sure, Trump has done a great deal to benefit corporate America's incumbent executives, especially those looking to maximize their own wealth in the run-up to retirement. Through his regressive-tax cuts and deregulatory measures, the president has saved major U.S. firms and their shareholders a bundle. The nation's six largest banks alone have pocketed $32 billion as a consequence of Trump's policies. And for America's most socially irresponsible enterprises, this administration has been a true godsend. Since taking power, the Trump White House has, among other things, expanded the liberty of coal companies to dump mining waste in streams, pushed to preserve the rights of retirement advisers to gamble with their clients' money, freed employers from the burden of logging all workplace injuries, and ended discrimination against serial labor-law violators in the bidding process for government contracts.

    But the Republican Party is too corrupted by rentier and extractive industries -- and too besotted with conservative economic orthodoxy -- to advance the long-term best interests of American capital. . . .

    Contra ruling-class reactionaries' self-flattering dogmas, private enterprise is -- and always has been -- reliant on competent statecraft. Conservatives recognize capital's reliance on "big government" in the realm of military defense. But in the Anthropocene, emergent diseases and climate change pose at least as large a threat to capital accumulation as any hostile foreign power. Meanwhile, in a globalized economy beset by chronic shortfalls of demand and periodic financial shocks, the GOP's resilient skepticism about economic stimulus renders the party an uncertain friend to corporate America in its times of need. Granted, the party has largely fulfilled its duty to reflate asset prices and shore up credit markets this year. But the strength of the recovery (such as it is) is at least partly attributable to policies that originated with Democrats, and which the GOP accepted only grudgingly in March and has since refused to renew. As is, there is every reason to think that American businesses (especially small ones) would be better off if Pelosi's caucus could set fiscal policy by fiat.

Martin Longman: We can't endure much more bad leadership. He starts with some examples of how little decisions by leaders add up, for some reason starting with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and tracing from there through 9/11 and the Global War on Terror -- things which indeed reflect bad leadership but really have more proximate causes. Trump gets several mentions later on, but his real example is SD governor Kristi Noem's decision not to cancel the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis. The result:

Nineteen percent of the 1.4 million new coronavirus cases in the U.S. between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2 can be traced back to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held in South Dakota, according to researchers from San Diego State University's Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies.

That's more than 266,000 cases, with a public health cost of $12.2 billion. As for Trump, he's not just a bad leader in the sense that Clinton, the Bushes, and even Obama were -- by following conventional political "wisdom" into one cul de sac after another. He's bad on an absolutely cosmic scale. He's seeded the government with mini-versions of himself: pompous, arrogant, corrupt, vain, and stupid, and led them to believe that they are protected from legal and political consequences (even though he's ultimately had to fire many of them). One can imagine an inept leader surviving on the competencies of his staff, but Trump precluded that possibility both through his staffing -- sure, Pence was responsible for most of them, but over time Trump has managed to weed out most of the ones who weren't sufficiently sycophantic (or for that matter psycho) -- but also by insisting that nothing is real but in terms of its us-vs-them political impact. Trump's instinct was to look only at the political implications of coronavirus, to see how he could use it as a tool of divide and conquer. As such, he inevitably politicized things like mask wearing that most leaders would have taken pains to depoliticize. Longman stresses that many times he's argued that we need better leaders. What's more clear is that we need less bad leaders -- leaders who can put aside their political angles when the events dictate otherwise. However, Trump has gone way beyond such concepts as good and not bad. The problem with Trump's leadership is not just that it's bad; it's that he's so embarrassingly incompetent he's a distraction from everything.

German Lopez:

Bruno MaÁ„es: How fantasy triumphed over reality in American politics. Author has a new book, History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America, from which this is adapted. He is stuck with the idea of a "new world order," and flat out declares "the proposition that the whole planet is on a course to embrace Western liberalism is no longer credible," but doesn't seem to have any better suggestions. He is right that in voting for Reagan in 1980 America turned away from the limits of the real world and decided to live in a fantasy -- one that's become progressively desperate as evidenced by Trump's "make America great again."

Amanda Marcotte: Trump, you're no FDR or Winston Churchill -- but you're a lot like Charles Lindbergh: "Trump defends coronavirus lies to comparing himself to wartime leaders -- but he's closer to the Nazi apologists." This doesn't mention Nick Adams's recent book, Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization, which is ridiculous enough (on both counts) to need no review, nor does it mention Fred Trump's attachment to Lindbergh's "America First" movement (although it does note Donald Trump's use of the slogan and penchant for evoking fascist memes).

Perhaps the difference between the two men is that Lindbergh, as despicable a person as he may have been, became famous for doing something that required courage, intelligence and skill, which was to become the first person to fly an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean.

Trump, on the other hand, has spent his life bouncing from one failed venture to another, cheating and grifting to create the illusion of enormous wealth and great success. And so while Lindbergh eventually had to concede reality, Trump will never quit believing he can flim-flam his way through this crisis, no matter how many corpses pile up in his wake.

Nolan D McCaskill: Trump team says history will vindicate him on coronavirus: "Top advisers blame everyone but the president for the nation's plight during the pandemic."

Media Matters: This group watches Fox News so you don't have to. I'm convinced that nothing affects politics more these days than Fox's hermetically sealed alternate universe. I saw Matt Taibbi complain recently that MSNBC is "even more partisan" than Fox, and that nearly everyone who says they trust the New York Times for news identifies as a Democrat, but the latter at least doesn't try to lock their readers in a bubble of misinformation. (I watch so little MSNBC I can't really speak of them.) Some recent headlines give you a taste both of what Trump says and (more importantly) what he hears:

Ian Millhiser:

Tom Nichols: This Republican Party is not worth saving: "No one should ever get a second chance to destroy the Constitution."

Timothy Noah: Trump's OSHA is fining companies pennies for pandemic violations.

Olivia Nuzzi: There's still a reason for Trump rallies, for Trump at least: "The MAGA rallies -- which aren't technically MAGA rallies -- are helping the president workshop his campaign message in real time."

The rallies are a salve for the Tinkerbell syndrome that afflicts the president. He is first a showman, and his connection with an audience is life-sustaining -- a source of dopamine and a form of catharsis more powerful than any grenade-throwing exercise of a tweet. And they provide him with a sort of spiritual poll: a sense of how things are going, based on his animalistic crowd-aura-reading abilities.

On the other hand, you have to wonder about the quality of feedback he's getting from the small minority of Americans who adore him enough to risk their lives to gratify his ego.

Listening to him, it can sound like he's been unable to make sense of what has happened in America under his watch.

"This is the most important election in the history of our country. I wouldn't say that lightly," he said. "And frankly, I thought the last one was, and I said it, but they've gone to a level that nobody even thought possible. These people have gotten stone-cold crazy."

Antonio Olivo/Nick Miroff: ICE flew detainees to Virginia so the planes could transport agents to DC protests. A huge coronavirus outbreak followed.

George Packer: Are we on the cusp of an era of radical reform that repairs America's broken democracy? Alternate title: America's plastic hour is upon us.

Beneath the dreary furor of the partisan wars, most Americans agree on fundamental issues facing the country. Large majorities say that government should ensure some form of universal health care, that it should do more to mitigate global warming, that the rich should pay higher taxes, that racial inequality is a significant problem, that workers should have the right to join unions, that immigrants are a good thing for American life, that the federal government is plagued by corruption. These majorities have remained strong for years. The readiness, the demand for action, is new.

What explains it? Nearly four years of a corrupt, bigoted, and inept president who betrayed his promise to champion ordinary Americans. The arrival of an influential new generation, the Millennials, who grew up with failed wars, weakened institutions, and blighted economic prospects, making them both more cynical and more utopian than their parents. Collective ills that go untreated year after year, so bone-deep and chronic that we assume they're permanent -- from income inequality, feckless government, and police abuse to a shredded social fabric and a poisonous public discourse that verges on national cognitive decline. Then, this year, a series of crises that seemed to come out of nowhere, like a flurry of sucker punches, but that arose straight from those ills and exposed the failures of American society to the world.

Alex Pareene: What if Democrats just promised to make things work again? "It's actually a rarity to hear a politician explicitly promise to govern effectively." "Most Americans, like most people, simply want things to work."

Martin Pengelly:

Cameron Peters:

  • Trump's Nevada rally was an exercise in delegitimizing voting -- and denying reality: "Trump keeps holding probable superspreader events in the middle of a pandemic."

  • Why Mike Bloomberg plans to spend $100 million boosting Biden in Florida. Nothing to get excited about here -- no one has done more to discredit the idea of money's ability to influence elections than Bloomberg, but the main thing his spending couldn't overcome was the inherent weakness of the messenger. On the other hand, one could argue that his spending was very effective at getting people to vote for Joe Biden, who not only handily beat Bloomberg but won a bunch of states he didn't seriously campaign in. Florida was one of those states -- a particularly important one. Personally, I have no faith Florida will ever do the right thing, but it offers Bloomberg an opportunity to earn some favors with Biden. One thing about Bloomberg is that his motives are pretty transparent: he hates the left much more than he's bothered by the Republicans, and sees centrist Democrats as a much more effective prophylactic against popular revolt threatening his class privileges. If billionaires like Bloomberg can't deliver the presidency to Biden, their future in the Democratic Party will be as tarnished as Hillary Clinton's. Also see: Dexter Filkins: Who gets to vote in Florida? One reason Florida disappoints so often is that Republican jiggering of the election process there is often decisive. While there is little doubt that Republicans will try to cheat everywhere they can this year, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, and (of course) Florida are exceptionally vulnerable.

Lili Pike: China has quietly vaccinated more than 100,000 people for Covid-19 before completing safety trials. China was the first nation hit by Covid-19, and from that point seemed (to me, at least) likely to be the first nation to get a grip on the disease, possibly gaining some sort of strategic advantage vs. other countries (especially given the US obsession with "intellectual property" rents). Looking back, China was remarkably effective at containing the virus, with per capita infection rates so low one wonders if they've fudged the numbers. But also, unlike the US, the Chinese government retains the ability and will to direct private industry to further public goals, so they can pursue things like vaccine development much more aggressively than others can. Also, given their closed political system, they have little motivation to publicize developments before they are known to work -- compare to Trump's promises on a vaccine before the end of the year, or his touting of a plasma treatment that hadn't been cleared. So it's not a surprise that China seems to have jumped into the lead on vaccine development -- just news. Also, this should give you pause when thinking about Trump's plans for an "America first" vaccine controlled by corporate behemoths. From its inception, Covid-19 was a world pandemic, which demanded full international cooperation. Trump has repeatedly sabotaged that, and the US has suffered a lot as a result, and we're likely to suffer even more.

Paul R Pillar: Putting America on the wrong side of war crimes.

Michael Rea: How the evangelical movement became Trump's "bitch" -- and yes, I know what that word signifies: "As an evangelical myself, I can see how far the movement has sunk -- even to betraying its own ideal of masculinity."

James Risen: Senate report shows what Mueller missed about Trump and Russia. Also:

David Roberts: What's causing climate change, in 10 charts.

Nathan J Robinson: The case for degrowth: When the shutdowns happened back in March, a friend asked whether they would force us to start thinking about degrowth. The concept has been floating around for a while. Indeed, it's almost inevitable once you consider the impossibility of infinite economic growth, but it also builds on critiques of GDP -- turns out that measuring all economic activity fails to recognize any difference in value between activities (like building a house, or blowing one up and having to build another -- the latter produces more GDP, but one less house). Robinson reviews Jason Hickel's new book: Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World, and also spend considerable time with Mariana Mazzucato's The Value of Everything.

Philip Rucker/Josh Dawsey/Yasmeen Abutaleb: Trump fixates on the promise of a vaccine -- real or not -- as key to reelection bid.

Aaron Rupar:

Robert J Samuelson: Goodbye, readers, and good luck -- you'll need it: "What 50 years of writing about economics has taught me." Not much. He's been a hedgehog, his one big idea that inflation is bad. I read his book, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath, where he insisted that the inflation of the 1970s was even worse than the depression of the 1930s. My parents lived through both, and while they may have been luckier than some in the 1970s, their view was the exact opposite. Perhaps because they learned to avoid debt and save in the 1930s they saw nothing but benefits from the 1970s: their costs were manageable (no debt, not even a mortgage), my father's wages grew substantially (thank God for unions), and their savings reaped pretty high interest (without having to become criminals). Samuelson's last piece before this one was Don't forget about inflation. I thought about complaining about it at the time but didn't, so when I saw this one, I figured I'd best get my last word in. I was pointed to this one by Alex Pareene, who tweeted: "this guy sucks and in incalculable but significant ways has made the future worse for all of us with his bad ideas and arguments dating back decades." Pareene also referred me to Brad DeLong: Carbon blogging/Robert J Samuelson is a bad person.

Jeff Satterwhite: The right-wing worldview is one of scarecrows and scapegoats. Argues that conservatives obsess over three "scarecrows": They will take out safety; They will take our liberty; They will take our culture. He doesn't offer a list of "scapegoats"; presumably they is all you need to know.

Jon Schwarz: 3,000 dead on 9/11 meant everything. 200,000 dead of Covid-19 means nothing. Here's why. "To America's leaders, our lives have value only insofar as they can be used to create a desired panic." Schwarz gives a number of examples of what were called cassus belli events -- excuses for launching wars. He mentions, for instance, the "Tonkin Gulf Incident" where US ships were fired on by North Vietnamese, but no one was injured. He doesn't mention Israel's sinking of a US ship during the 1968 Six Day War, where all Americans on board perished, but that wasn't a cassus belli, because the US had no desire to fight Israel.

Bush wanted a pretext to do a lot of things that were unnecessary, while Trump wanted an excuse to do nothing when, in fact, a lot really needed to be done.

Liliana Segura: Trump's execution spree continues at federal killing ground in Indiana: "More federal executions have been carried out in 2020 than in the past 57 years combined."

Adam Serwer: Will the United States belatedly fulfill its promise as a multiracial democracy?

Surveying the protests, Trump saw a path to victory in Nixon's footsteps: The uprisings of 2020 could rescue him from his catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. The president leaned into his own "law and order" message. He lashed out against "thugs" and "terrorists," warning that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Ahead of what was to be his comeback rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, Trump tweeted, "Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis" -- making no distinction between those protesting peacefully and those who might engage in violence.

In this, Trump was returning to a familiar playbook. He was relying on the chaos of the protests to produce the kind of racist backlash that he had ridden to the presidency in 2016. Trump had blamed the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri -- a response to the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer -- on Barack Obama's indulgence of criminality. "With our weak leadership in Washington, you can expect Ferguson type riots and looting in other places," Trump predicted in 2014. As president, he saw such uprisings as deliverance.

Then something happened that Trump did not foresee. It didn't work.

Trump was elected president on a promise to restore an idealized past in which America's traditional aristocracy of race was unquestioned. But rather than restore that aristocracy, four years of catastrophe have -- at least for the moment -- discredited it.

Christianna Silva/James Doubek: Fascism scholas says US is 'losing its democratic status': Interview with Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. I've read that book and think it's pretty good, finding a middle ground between accounts which take a overly strict historical definition (like Robert Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism) and leftists (like myself) who instantly smell fascism in every form of right-wing reaction. The NPR article links to Elias Bures: Don't call Donald Trump a fascist, which reviews Stanley's book and others (including one of Dinesh D'Souza's most ridiculous ones, accusing the left of fascism -- a trope Jonah Goldberg beat to death in Liberal Fascism). I think it depends a lot of who you're talking to. Many of us older folk on the left have a deep understanding of fascism, which provides a ready framework for recognizing much of what Trump and other conservatives say and do. Moreover, some Trump artifacts (like his ads where all the "bad guys" are Jews) echo fascist memes much too closely for comfort. On the other hand, more (mostly younger) people don't, in which case this quickly devolves to name-calling (which is all it ever was to Goldberg and D'Souza). Were I to construct a 0-10 F-Scale for how fascist politicians are, I'd peg Reagan and the Bushes in the 3-5 range, and Trump more like 7-8: too low to be a precise definition, but high enough one can't help but think about it. For a taste, here are some recent links that use the F-word:

Phillip Smith: Oregon is on the cusp of a major drug reform: Decriminalizing everything. It's likely that the number of states where marijuana is legal will increase this year, as it has nearly every election since Colorado voters approved. It's an easy call, given that it's arguably more benign than already legal alcohol and tobacco. Other drugs are a harder call, but prohibition hasn't worked any better with them than it did with alcohol or marijuana. I would go further than this proposal, but it's still much better than any state has yet done.

Roger Sollenberger: Tucker Carlson: "If we're going to survive as a country, we must defeat" Black Lives Matter: Excuse me, but what the fuck does this mean? What can "defeat" possibly mean? Arrest all the leaders and supporters of BLM? Wouldn't that just incite more people to pick up the struggle? What about anyone who even sympathizes with the notion that black people deserve the same rights and respect enjoyed by whites? Even if somehow you managed to do that, what kind of country would you have left? One with more people in jail than out? One the rest of the world -- which in case you haven't noticed is mostly non-white -- regards as an unspeakably vile rogue nation? Or maybe Carlson would be satisfied just to acquit all the cops who kill unarmed blacks, and beat back every effort to "defund" or otherwise reform the police? Wouldn't that just make BLM seem more important and more necessary than ever? The only way movements rooted in a fundamental quest for justice go away is when they achieve all or at least a significant chunk of their goals. Racist rants, even from perches like Fox News, just add to the conviction that movements like BLM are necessary.

Emily Stewart: Give everybody the internet. I agree, and would go a bit further. We also need public options to compete against all of the major commercial aps on the internet.

Matt Stieb:

Peter Stone: How William Barr is weaponizing the Justice Department to help Trump win.

David Swanson: In memoriam: Kevin Zeese is irreplaceable. Zeese, an activist lawyer, died last week. Includes some links, including two pieces co-authored by Margaret Flowers: We're in a recession, and it's likely to get worse (Mar. 19), and We don't have to choose between our health and the economy (May 19).

Astra Taylor: The end of the university: "The pandemic should force America to remake higher education."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: How Trump could win: "The President consistently trails Joe Biden in polls, but political strategists from both parties suggest that he still has routes to reŽlection." On the one hand, they're fucking with you. On the other, we have so little faith in our fellow voters, in the media that feeds them misinformation, and in the arcane system they have to navigate in order to vote, that we're full of doubts, and the fear of getting this wrong can be all-consuming.

Alex Ward:

Libby Watson:

  • Covid patients are receiving eye-popping bills. It's not all Trump's fault. "even a well-crafted plan would have been no match for our inept health care system."

  • The two Joe Bidens: "One talks of an 'FDR-size presidency,' the other works to calm Wall Street nerves. Which one will create the post-pandemic future?" The one that gets elected? Otherwise, do we even have a future?

  • America's callous indifference to death: "The Covid-19 pandemic serves as a reminder that even in an election year, our politics are ideologically predisposed to a malign neglect."

    Just two years ago, a hurricane in Puerto Rico killed at least as many people as died on 9/11, and our government's response was pathetic. The help provided has never come close to matching the need: As of July, the "first major program to rebuild houses hasn't completed a single one even though tens of thousands of homes still have damaged roofs nearly three years after Maria," according to NBC. Such neglect might be familiar to people in North Carolina or Texas, where people who had not yet recovered from one hurricane were upended again by another just a year or two later.

    The implication here is that government responded to 9/11 but not to "natural" disasters. True that victims of 9/11 received relatively generous compensation, but the overwhelming majority of what was spent following 9/11 did its victims no good whatsoever, and most of it created further problems -- even the toll of American soldiers killed in the subsequent wars far exceeded the number killed by terrorists, and the money spent, which gained us nothing, could have been put to good use at home. Politicians respond to deaths when it suits them, in ways that suit them.

Joshua Yaffa: Is Russian meddling as dangerous as we think? "The spectre of foreign manipulation looms over the coming election. But in focusing on the tactics of the aggressors we overlook out weaknesses as victims."

Jia Lynn Yang: Are we more divided now than ever before? Review of James A Morone's new book, Republic of Wrath: How American Politics Turned Tribal, From George Washington to Donald Trump. The two-party system has always been tribal, and always polarizing, but what's happened recently is that since 1980 the division has become increasingly right vs left. Before it was not uncommon to see greater diversity within a major party than between presidential candidates, but that started to change in 1980 when conservatives took over the Republican Party and won the presidency, using that success to sweep up all conservatives among Democrats. That was a winning formula for a while, but eventually turned GOP moderates into Democrats, and pushed the Democratic Party leftward (although so far you cannot say the left has come close to capturing the Democratic Party).

Matthew Yglesias:

Yglesias, by the way, has a new book, One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. For a review, see:

Li Zhou: The Senate just failed to pass more stimulus amid a struggling economy. Here's why. "Republicans were simply using the vote to send a message."


Further notes:

From Twitter:

  • Sahil Kapur: It is remarkable how thoroughly "repeal and replace Obamacare" has been exposed as a policy mirage, after hundreds of millions of dollars poured into an assault that shaped countless elections and helped define U.S. politics in the 2010s.

  • Mike Konczal: A bugaboo of mine: there is no noteworthy insider-access or policy-friendly conservative reporting, research, or books on why this collapsed in 2017. There's no Jacob S Hacker's Road to Nowhere[: The Genesis of President Clinton's Plan for Health Security] equivalent. Just nothing.

    There are dozens of reports on why cap-and-trade failed in 2010, marquee ones that break into schools of thought of where to go next.

    It's just silence on the Right. The two major recent initiatives, Social Security privatization and ACA repeal, gone as if they never existed.

Jacob Hacker later tweeted:

For what it's worth, Paul Pierson & I did write out own post-mortem -- though it's definitely not an insider-access or policy-friendly conservative account: The Dog That Almost Barked: What the ACA Repeal Fight Says about the Resilience of the American Welfare State.

From Michael Hull, on Twitter:

OTD 49 years ago the State of New York murdered 39 people at Attica prison.

They planned the brutality, tortured the survivors, and began destroying evidence the same day.

They've denied it for decades, but I got pictures.

The video will be posted to my Vimeo page and available for download by anyone who wants it.

That's the goal - we want writers, artists, thinkers, people of all disciplines and representing every pocket of society to use this material as a vehicle to talk about their town.

It's time for the rebellion and retaking at Attica prison to be reconsidered through the lens of the modern abolitionist movement. It's time for more people to have their say on this brutal event.

It's time for New York to stop hiding this evidence.

Mike also has a Facebook page on the archive and his movie based on the archive, Surrender Peacefully: The Attica Massacre, with a link to the trailer.