Monday, October 26, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Once again, this week's news overwhelmed my ability to round it up by Sunday night. Music Week will also be pushed back a day.

Table of contents:

Noticed in the Wichita Eagle today an obituary for Michael Hannon. I knew him when we were students at Hamilton Intermediate School in Wichita, KS. He was part of a gaggle or clique of students that I associated with in 8th and 9th grades -- most were old friends from Gardiner, but we walked south together after school until they turned east, and I jogged west and south. His father and uncle were big shots in the Wichita Police Dept., and I remember him as being fervently pro-Goldwater in 1964 (for a brief moment he steered me that way). I went to Wichita High School South for 10th grade, while everyone else I knew went to East. That left me with no friends, and after hassles from the administration, I dropped out midway that year, only to get locked up for my truancy. I returned to South for 11th grade, turned 16, and quit again. The only bright spot in that miserable years was when Michael transferred to South, and was dropped into my remedial English class. So for a couple of months, he was my only friend. Not enough to survive my exit, but I've always remembered him fondly. Looks like he graduated from South, went to college, got a master's degree, got married, had a couple of kids, worked as a "residential health director," moving to Colorado then back to Wichita. He was a week or so younger than me. Obituary says "he believed that if everyone was kind to each other the world would be a better place." He was kind to me.

I was playing Leonard Cohen's extraordinary Live in London album recently. I've heard this song many times since it originally appeared in 1992, usually finding it it quaintly ironic, but ten days before the election, I finally heard it as prophetic, with nearly every line taking on new found significance (e.g., "the cradle of the best and the worst").

Covid in the US: Latest map and case count shows, as of October 25: 8.7 million+ cases (14-day change +32%), deaths 225,357 (14-day change +12%). The third wave now appears to be above the second wave peak back in July.


This is just a sampling. I could find hundreds more, hammering away at many of the same points. Needless to say, I endorse Biden-Harris, and have already voted for them.

The Atlantic: The case against Donald Trump: "The president of the United States poses a threat to our collective existence. The choice voters face is spectacularly obvious." Reminds readers of their 2016 endorsement, then goes on:

What we have learned since we published that editorial is that we understated our case. Donald Trump is the worst president this country has seen since Andrew Johnson, or perhaps James Buchanan, or perhaps ever. Trump has brought our country low; he has divided our people; he has pitted race against race; he has corrupted our democracy; he has shown contempt for American ideals; he has made cruelty a sacrament; he has provided comfort to propagators of hate; he has abandoned America's allies; he has aligned himself with dictators; he has encouraged terrorism and mob violence; he has undermined the agencies and departments of government; he has despoiled the environment; he has opposed free speech; he has lied frenetically and evangelized for conspiracism; he has stolen children from their parents; he has made himself an advocate of a hostile foreign power; and he has failed to protect America from a ravaging virus. Trump is not responsible for all of the 220,000 COVID-19-related deaths in America. But through his avarice and ignorance and negligence and titanic incompetence, he has allowed tens of thousands of Americans to suffer and die, many alone, all needlessly. With each passing day, his presidency reaps more death.

National Nurses United: Nurses endorse Joe Biden for President!

Unlike the disastrous response to the current pandemic from President Trump which has caused massive numbers of preventable infections and fatalities, Joe Biden has committed to a thoughtful and comprehensive response to the pandemic from the federal government. He is committed to fully invoke the Defense Production Act to mass produce PPE. He has also endorsed NNU's call for an emergency federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard to protect worker's safety during pandemics. The life and death implications of this election could not be clearer and more urgent.

New Hampshire Union Leader: Our choice is Joe Biden: Evidently, the first time the legendarily conservative newspaper has endorsed a Democrat (well, at least, in over 100 years).

The New York Times: Elect Joe Biden, America.

Mr. Biden knows that there are no easy answers. He has the experience, temperament and character to guide the nation through this valley into a brighter, more hopeful future. He has our endorsement for the presidency.

When they go to the polls this year, voters aren't just choosing a leader. They're deciding what America will be. They're deciding whether they favor the rule of law, how the government will help them weather the greatest economic calamity in generations, whether they want government to enable everyone to have access to health care, whether they consider global warming a serious threat, whether they believe that racism should be treated as a public policy problem.

The New York Times also published: R.I.P., G.O.P.: "The Party of Lincoln had a good run. Then came Mr. Trump." Actually, the whole enterprise went rotten long before Trump, who is unique only in not bothering to pretend that Republican rule seeks only to profit from graft and is actively hostile to anyone not in their select following. Trump may even have done us a favor in exhibiting his malign public policy as sociopathic personality. Most Republicans are careful to disguise their intentions and rationalize their effects. Even Trump lies incessantly about them, but so transparently only the most foolishly gullible believe him.

The New Yorker: The New Yorker endorses a Biden presidency: "It would be a relief simply to have a President who doesn't abuse the office as a colossal grift. But a new President must also address the failures that have been festering in American life for decades."

But, though many more voters supported his opponent, the Trump Presidency had to be endured. Contempt has been at the core of his time in office: contempt for the Constitution; contempt for truth and dissent; contempt for women and people of color; contempt for champions of civil rights as great as John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump's contempt for science and the basic welfare of Americans is so profound that, through an enraging combination of incompetence, indifference, and stupidity, he has failed to meet the pitiless demands of a viral pandemic. The national death toll is more than two hundred thousand.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Pennsylvania needs Joe Biden.

But more fundamentally, there is no common ground shared by Trump and Biden. Trump's lack of respect for the office he holds, his disregard for the country who looks for sound, informed, and unifying leadership, and his contempt for the democratic principles this country was founded on, make such comparisons both futile and absurd. To contrast Trump with a candidate like Biden, who has spent his life in public service, who has gravitas as well as experience in domestic and foreign affairs, and who, frankly, has a healthy relationship with reality, would do a disservice to Biden.

Rolling Stone: Joe Biden for President.

We've lived for the past four years under a man categorically unfit to be president. Fortunately for America, Joe Biden is Donald Trump's opposite in nearly every category: The Democratic presidential nominee evinces competence, compassion, steadiness, integrity, and restraint. Perhaps most important in this moment, Biden holds a profound respect for the institutions of American democracy, as well as a deep knowledge about how our government -- and our system of checks and balances -- is meant to work; he aspires to lead the nation as its president, not its dictator. The 2020 election, then, offers the nation a chance to reboot and rebuild from the racist, authoritarian, know-nothing wreckage wrought by the 45th president. And there are few Americans better suited to the challenge than Joe Biden.

Scientific American: Endorses Joe Biden: "We've never backed a presidential candidate in our 175-year history -- until now."

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people -- because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

The Washington Post: Trump's America in 2024:

Many people may find it hard to understand, but just over a week before the election, some voters remain undecided. To them we would say: A vote for a second Trump term is a vote for an America in decline and an American democracy in danger. . . .

Mr. Trump would undermine all of those strengths. He replaces rule of law with presidential whim, picking and choosing corporate favorites and twisting the criminal system to favor his friends. At an accelerating pace, he is politicizing, corrupting and sapping the morale of our government -- our foreign service, our health and scientific agencies, our keepers of statistics. Many will hesitate to invest -- to build new factories or create new jobs -- if law and governmental power become unpredictable, wielded to reward cronies and punish the disfavored. . . .

In Mr. Trump's America, science and truth are treated with contempt. With his mangled response, the novel coronavirus has claimed more lives here than in any other country, and the pandemic and its accompanying recession could drag on long into a second Trump term. The contempt for science likewise shapes Mr. Trump's utter failure to respond to climate change.

Oma Seddiq: Only 4 major US newspapers have endorsed Trump for reelection: The Las Vegas Review-Journal, New York Post, Colorado Springs Gazette, and the Spokesman Review. I suppose you could also count this squirrelly piece by Ross Douthat: The last temptation of NeverTrump. Pro-Trump arguments inevitably depend on massive misrepresentations of Trump's actual record, usually accompanied by outrageous, hysterical lies about Biden and the Democrats. Presumably the latter justify the former.

Campaigns and Elections

There was a second debate between Trump and Biden last week. Reports generally agree that Trump embarrassed himself less this time, that he continues to support very unpopular policies, barely camouflaged with an armada of lies.

Vox [Zack Beauchamp, German Lopez, Dylan Scott, Emily Stewart, Jane Coaston, Jen Kirby, Dylan Matthews]: 4 winners and 5 losers from the last Biden-Trump debate. Winners: Joe Biden; Kristen Welker; the mute button; New York. Losers: Donald Trump; Medicare-for-all; Senate Republicans; Social justice; China.

538: What went down during the final presidential debate of 2020. Typical take: "Biden was blah, Trump wasn't as bad as before." Fair and balanced?

Sasha Abramsky: Trump sinks to new depths of deceit and depravity: "His mendacity level was through the roof, and his lack of empathy was even more on display."

Tim Alberta: The unspectacular excellence of Joe Biden's slow and steady campaign.

Shawn Boburg: Trump campaign flouted agreement to follow health guidelines at rally, documents show.

David Corn: Yes, Trump was calmer in debate no. 2. He's still a narcissist with no sense of empathy.

Chas Danner:

  • White House chief of staff: 'We are not going to control the pandemic'.

  • As Trump downplays the third wave, another Covid-19 outbreak strikes the White House. "At least five members of Vice-President Mike Pence's inner circle have tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days."

    The 83,000 new cases reported on Friday set a new daily record for the U.S. pandemic. Nearly 83,000 more were then reported on Saturday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and experts predict the country will soon undoubtedly reach 100,000 new cases per day. In the past week, the number of new cases nationwide has increased more than 20 percent, while the number of deaths from COVID-19 has increased by more than 15 percent. In the Midwest, the number of cases per million people has now surpassed both the spring peak in the Northeast during the first wave and the summer peak in the South during the second wave.

    Article quotes a Trump tweet:

    That's all I hear about now. Turn on TV, 'Covid, Covid, Covid Covid Covid.' A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don't talk about it. 'Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid.' By the way, on November 4th, you won't hear about it anymore . . . 'please don't go and vote, Covid!'

    I'd put the odds that mass media stops reporting on Covid-19 on November 4 at 0% (not that they wouldn't demote it for a good plane crash). Danner concludes:

    This rhetoric is now a big, supposedly entertaining part of Trump's stump speech amid the final stretch of his campaign. And now more people in the White House have caught COVID-19, just like in communities all over the country, while the president continues to hold large rallies in multiple states experiencing big surges and uncontrolled spread -- and where, as seen above, he publicly reduces the pandemic to a punchline.

Mark Danner: The con he rode in on: "Why do people hardly even talk about all the car plants Donald Trump has brought to Michigan?" Huh? Danner produced a quote from a Trump book written in 1987:

People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration -- and a very effective form of promotion.

Danner adds:

"Truthful hyperbole" because the details of that created world emerge from one central belief in the hero's mind, rooted directly in his gargantuan and fragile ego: I have done an incredible job. All those auto plants and steel plants become not lies or creations but exaggerations flowering decoratively from that a priori truth. Before the crowd of red-faced partisans chanting his name, he transformed from a snake-oil salesman, a great pattering con man in the Elmer Gantry tradition, a postmodern Willy Loman, to a masterful crafter and seller of dreams. They believed him and not their lyin' eyes because they wanted so desperately to believe.

Jonathan Easley: GOP pollster Luntz blasts Trump campaign as worst he's ever seen.

Matt Ford: Trump is giving America a grisly preview of a second term: "If reelected, he would likely take his exuberant penchant for corruption and vindictiveness to pornographic heights." This might be a good place to add a note. More often than not, presidents have been less effective in second terms than in first. Eisenhower and Reagan were much less vital in their second terms, partly due to health issues, partly because 6-year elections went very bad for them. GW Bush barely eked out a second term win, and was all thumbs after that, losing to Katrina and Iraq in his 5th year, losing Congress his 6th year, then blowing a hole in the economy, and winding up even more unpopular than Trump is now (or Wilson was by the end of his second term). Clinton and Obama lost Congress in their first mid-term elections, recovered enough to eek out a second term but stuck with a hostile Congress. Trump might be the exception here. For one thing, he set the bar pretty low in his first term, especially since he lost the House after 2 years. But also, he's learning how to use executive power to unilaterally implement his agenda, and as the courts are increasingly packed with Federalist Society flunkees, he's even more likely to get away with his plots and schemes. Congress will complain, and the House will probably impeach him again, but his vetoes will be sustained, and Democrats are unlikely to sabotage the economy just to spite him (as Republicans did to Obama). We'll wind up in a situation where the Constitution's vaunted "checks and balances" will have broken down, where vast executive powers that had been unwisely granted over the years will be construed to give Trump dictatorial powers, and where the courts will rubber-stamp his every wish. Given how malign Trump's agenda is, and how petty and vindictive he is himself, the results will be disastrous, and he will become even more unpopular than he already is. So while Ford paints a "grisly" future, if anything he underrates the potential for ruin.

Susan B Glasser: Trump at the debate was like America in 2020: Not winning.

Gabrielle Gurley: Florida's voter suppression obsession.

Maggie Haberman/Michael Crowley: Trump calls on Barr to 'act' against Biden before election: "The president is increasingly fixated on seeing criminal action against his political opponents."

Benjamin Hart/Olivia Nuzzi: The debate guardrails were a gift for Trump.

Ben Jacobs: 'Grand slam': GOP insiders texted me their honest feelings about the final debate.

Sarah Jones:

  • Trump donors blew $1 billion on the QVC president. There's a long list of expenses here, but they don't come close to adding up.

    Donald Trump's donors want to know where all the money went. The president raised -- and spent -- nearly $1 billion since 2017, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Now a candidate famous for his performative wealth is at a disadvantage. Joe Biden and the Democrats are about to outspend the Republicans "by more than 2-to-1" on advertising, according to the AP. Trump is canceling ads in battleground states, including Wisconsin, and appears to hope that his rallies will make up the difference. . . .

    Trump was always profligate and too incompetent to compensate for his poor impulse control. He repeatedly wasted his father's money, much of it on bad business deals. In the absence of real business acumen, a simulacrum must suffice, so Trump invested in his brand image. . . . Buying a Trump product was an optimistic if gullible gesture, the equivalent of buying something from a midnight segment on QVC. His voters and donors make a similar mistake. He is the QVC president, a dupe for a higher-quality product. . . . Trump's donors bought garbage and got garbage.

  • Focus group slams Trump for no empathy in final presidential debate: "Veteran pollster Stan Greenberg says it was a "disastrous" performance by the president, according to people who watched."

  • Militias pose high risk of election violence, new report says: I'm not sure how much to credit this. It's not that I doubt there will be incidents, but there aren't that damn many militias, and voting is going on everywhere, with a lot of it in advance.

Dhruv Khullar: How Trump became the pro-infection candidate.

As a physician, of course, I take the medical view of the pandemic; in a sense, I've experienced it firsthand. Caring for COVID-19 patients at the height of New York City's first wave, I watched as the medical profession, so often fragmented by ego and hierarchy, coalesced around the certainty that any loss of life is a tragedy. Nurses and doctors worked for weeks on end with little respite, often separated from their families to avoid infecting them. Clinicians poured in from across the country to help. Health-care leaders held daily briefings, scrambled for P.P.E., and searched for ventilators. Facilities crews reorganized hospitals. Everyone -- even those who weren't seeing patients -- started wearing masks. On the coronavirus wards, we went further, donning goggles, gowns, gloves, respirators, and shoe coverings. Contagious patients were placed in negative-pressure rooms and sometimes seen through telemedicine; infected people who didn't need hospitalization but couldn't isolate from their loved ones at home were offered hospital-based housing. Husbands, wives, parents, and siblings died alone. Women gave birth without their partners present. All this was done not out of fear but out of concern. We didn't want even a single person to get the virus unnecessarily. Our commitment was sharpened by the knowledge that we were witnessing many preventable deaths.

As the virus surged around the country, millions of Americans upended their lives and adopted new habits to protect one another. All the while, the President and his team pursued a different path. Declining to wear a mask or follow basic social-distancing guidance, Trump tweeted about "liberating" states and promoted discredited therapies. Overwhelmed by the task of fighting the virus, he pulled from the playbook of tobacco companies and climate-change deniers, casting doubt on the statistics. The rise in cases reflected only increased testing; the number of deaths had been doctored; the virus's lethality had been overstated -- as his dodges piled up, it became clear that he had no interest in grappling with the reality of hundreds of thousands of deaths. . . .

The U.S. is now entering what seems to be a new wave of infection; over the past week, the country saw, on average, more than sixty thousand new cases a day. In many states, COVID-19 wards are filling up again, and some places are seeing record-high hospitalizations; the Midwest is experiencing its largest growth in cases since the start of the pandemic. According to some models, the U.S. could experience nearly four hundred thousand COVID-19 deaths before the next President is sworn in. Despite all this, Trump would likely interpret reëlection as a validation of his approach. We could find ourselves living even more deeply in two incompatible worlds: a medical world, in which doctors, hospitals, scientists, and public-health professionals continue doing their best to grapple with the virus, and a political one, in which wishful thinking and pseudoscience rule. Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. We could move, together, into a single, fact-based world -- one in which we confront reality and work to improve it.

Ed Kilgore:

Jen Kirby/Rani Molla: Early voting in 2020 has already exceeded all of 2016's early votes: "More than 51 million people have already voted early in 2020, surpassing 2016's overall early vote total."

Ezra Klein: The fight is for democracy: "The stakes of this election are so high because the system itself is at stake." Starts by quoting Melissa Schwartzberg:

"The really important question is when do electoral losers think that it's in their interest to go along with their defeat, and when do they think they're better off resisting and revolting?" Schwartzberg replied. "It has to be that they think they have some better chance of obtaining power in the long run by continuing to abide by the rules of the game."

In American politics in 2020, both sides doubt that abiding by loss is the surest path back to power. This is an election -- and more than an election, it is a politics -- increasingly defined by a fight over what the rules of the game should be.

Democrats see a political system increasingly rigged against them and the voters they represent, and they are right. They are facing an Electoral College where a 2- to 3-point win in the popular vote still means Republicans are favored to take the presidency. They are vying to win back control of a Senate where Republicans have a 6- to 7-point advantage. The simple truth of American politics right now is this: Republicans can lose voters, sometimes badly, and still win power. Democrats need landslides to win power.

It gets worse. Democrats fear a doom loop. They are faced with the reality that when they lose power, Republicans will draw districts and change rules and hand down Supreme Court decisions that further weaken their voters, that pull America further from anything resembling democracy. Democrats have watched it happen in recent years again and again, as I document below. Losing begets losing, because in the American political system, electoral winners have the power to rewrite electoral rules.

But Republicans also see their position as desperate. They know their coalition is shrinking. They know that they are winning power but losing voters. They see a younger, more diverse, and more liberal generation building against them. They fear that Democratic efforts to expand the franchise and make voting an easily exercised right rather than a politically metered privilege will spell their long-term demise. They believe that mass democracy is inimical to their interests, and they state that fact baldly.

In March, when House Democrats proposed vote-by-mail options, same-day registration, and expanded early voting -- a package Republicans blocked -- President Donald Trump told the Fox & Friends hosts, "They had things, levels of voting, that if you'd ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

Eric Lach: "Before the plague came, I had it made": Trump strikes a doubtful note in Pennsylvania.

Nancy LeTourneau: Fox News may be heading towards an epic election-night showdown. Starts: "Donald Trump has made it clear that he plans to declare victory on election night. He'll do it when the returns are primarily based on in-person voting from that day." So it will be interesting to see whether early media coverage gives him any encouragement, especially Fox. My impression is that while Fox hosts and guests will say anything, Fox's polling operation is fairly honest. News organizations don't project state winners until they have data to back up their modeled expectations, and if the data doesn't confirm, or they're missing significant data, they hold back. The big one this year is how much advance voting there is, how quickly it's reported (some states count mail-in ballots that arrive several days after election day), and whether it skews differently from in-person voting. Nobody knows the answer to that now, and won't until late. Trump's big hope for an early lead comes from Indiana and Kentucky, where polls close early and counting is very fast. In 2016, I expected IN/KY to go to Trump, but was disturbed early in the evening by his margins there. Still, if his early returns there don't top 2016, he won't have much ground to claim a win on. (According to 538, Trump is +10.6 in IN, +19.2 in KY, and that's based on nationwide polling that shows Trump -9.1; if Trump can win the electoral college while finishing -4 in the popular vote, which is pretty close to the built-in bias, he'd need to win IN +16 and KY +24. The median state right now is Pennsylvania, which is Biden +5.5, suggesting that Trump actually needs to shift more voters. BTW, 538 has a video explaining some of this: Will we know the winner on election night? Pay attention to these states. This indicates that they at least have some idea of how quickly various states will report results, but their tool is fairly crude, and not equipped to, for instance, handicap the election based on actual vs. expected results in arbitrary states, like IN/KY.)

Eric Levitz:

  • New poll confirms that high youth turnout would doom Trump: "Voters under 35 back Biden in 41 states; in Texas and Georgia, young voters oppose Trump by roughly 20 points.

  • 3 reasons Trump lost the final presidential debate:

    1. Trump is too immersed in the Fox News Cinematic Universe to communicate clearly with people who live outside of it.
    2. Trump claimed ownership of some of the GOP's least popular policies for no reason.
    3. The fact that Trump lacks anything resembling human empathy led him to defend his administration orphaning 545 immigrant children -- by emphasizing how clean their facilities were on the day of a photo op.

    Levitz concludes:

    It is possible that there are millions of moderate voters who want to support Donald Trump, but first needed to see him demonstrate his opposition to the wind power, commitment to deftly executing photo ops of migrant children he effectively orphaned, and make cryptic references to Hunter Biden's laptop. But that doesn't seem very likely.

Harold Meyerson: How many self-deceptions can our President sustain? "Lincoln's successor? The environment's pal? Are there any swing voters who believe this stuff?"

German Lopez: Trump on Covid-19: "I take full responsibility. It's not my fault." With Trump, the buck never stops.

Erin Mansfield/Josh Salman/Dinah Voyles Pulver: Trump's campaign made stops nationwide. Coronavirus cases surged in his wake in at least five places.

Joel Mathis: The Trump administration has surrendered to the pandemic.

Nicole Narea: Trump showed no regret over family separations during the presidential debate.

Tina Nguyen: The MAGAverse tries to summon another Clinton-FBI moment: "The ingredients are the same: a seized laptop, leaked emails. But this time MAGA adherents are sourcing the ingredients and hoping the FBI takes it up."

Ella Nilsen: CNN's debate fact-check laid out a "bombardment of dishonesty" from Trump.

Timothy Noah: Lesley Stahl blew her chance to eviscerate Trump: "The 60 Minutes interview may have outraged the president, but in truth he got off easy."

JC Pan:

  • The working class goes missing from yet another debate.

  • The cruelty of Washington's cynical stimulus war: "The drawn-out stimulus negotiations, which have left the public hanging out to dry, represent the worst of our political system." Still, I think Pan is rash in blaming the system. The Cares Act passed quickly because the stock market was crashing and business was panicking, so they were willing to go along with Democrats' ideas, like the $600 extra added to normally inadequate unemployment compensation checks. Once the stock market bounced back, Republicans lost interest in how the recession impacted regular people, and started looking for ways to squeeze workers harder. Meanwhile. it was the Democrats who were actually trying to be responsible about propping up the collapsed economy. Meanwhile, all Trump's done has been to issue some phony executive orders, and lie a lot. Can you really blame Pelosi and Shumer for negotiating for the best interest of most Americans? That may look bad for "the system," but it's not nearly as bad as unilateral, dictatorial Republican power would be.

Martin Pengelly: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump threaten to sue Lincoln Project: "Anti-Trump Republicans' Times Square billboards accuse advisers of showing 'indifference' to Americans suffering amid pandemic."

Lili Pike: Swing-state Pennsylvanians are divided on fracking. Here's why.

Ed Pilkington/Martin Pengelly: As election day nears, what final dirty tricks could Trump turn to?

Andrew Prokop:

Frank Rich: Biden makes the strongest case yet for his presidency.

Corey Robin: The gonzo constitutionalism of the American right. Robin reduced his piece to three points in Crooked Timber:

  1. The right used to be thought of as a "three-legged stool" made up of economic libertarians, statist Cold Warriors, and cultural traditionalists. Whether that characterization was accurate, it expressed an understanding of the right as a political entity capable of creating hegemony throughout society. That is no longer the case. Today, the right's three-legged stool is an artifact, a relic, of counter-majoritarian state institutions: the Electoral College, the Senate, and the courts.
  2. However undemocratic these three institutions may be, they are eminently constitutional. The most potent source of the right's power is neither fascism nor authoritarianism; it is gonzo constitutionalism.
  3. Should the Democrats win the White House and the Senate come November, they will have to engage in a major project of norm erosion just to enact the most basic parts of their platform. Should they do so -- eliminating the filibuster, say, for the sake of achieving voting rights for all citizens -- we will see that norm erosion is not how democracies die but how they are born.

Aaron Rupar:

Michael Scherer/Josh Dawsey: Trump bets on a 2016 replay, but faces a changed landscape.

Dylan Scott: Trump on Supreme Court opportunity to overturn Obamacare: "I hope they end it".

Walter Shapiro: The righteous anger of Joe Biden: "Next to a babbling, often incomprehensible president, Biden did what he needed to do in the final debate."

Alex Shephard: In memoriam: The Trump pivot: "The president may win some points for shouting less than he did in the first debate. But don't act like he's changed."

Katie Shepherd: A Colorado landlord allegedly threatened to double rents if Biden is elected: 'If Trump wins, we all win'. Translation: Republicans are bastards and bullies, and if you don't do as you're told, they're going to punish you. Reality: if this jerk could get away with doubling rents, he'd have done it already; then threaten you again.

Matt Shuham: Trump's last hurrah was saturated with racist appeals.

David Sirota: At the debate last night, Biden finally distanced himself from the GOP's austerity talking points.

Isaac Stanley-Becker/Tony Romm: Fearful calls flood election offices as Trump attacks mail-in voting, threatening participation in GOP strongholds.

Emily Stewart:

  • Undecided voters explain themselves. Watching a group of "undecided" voter watch the first Trump-Biden debate, the only conclusion I could come to was that undecidedness is less a centrist ideology than an identity. All of them agreed that Trump was horrible, but none were willing to commit to voting for or against him. As the article notes, there are fewer undecideds this year than in 2016, when the "undecided" vote ultimately broke hard for Trump.

  • "They're all Americans": What Biden gets about the pandemic that Trump doesn't: "When we treat the coronavirus like a state problem, America loses."

Daniel Strauss: The final Trump-Biden presidential debate: five key takeaways.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: A deftly moderated debate bottles Trump.

Alex Ward: How the last Trump-Biden debate played on Fox News.

Matthew Yglesias:

Tom Zoellner: Trumpism ate Martha McSally's brain: "Why Arizona may be sending two Democrats to the Senate for the first time in 70 years." Ooh, I know that answer: Henry Ashurst and Carl Hayden.

Still More on Donald Trump

Kate Aronoff: ExxonMobil's real quid pro quo with the government: "Trump suggested he could extort oil executives for campaign donations. The truth is more troubling."

Donald Trump didn't actually give Exxon drilling permits in exchange for $25 million in campaign donations. He just wants you to know that he could, if he wanted to. That was the message behind a viral clip of the president at a rally on Monday, in which he said he'd "call the head of Exxon," and say, "How are you doing, how's energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits, huh? . . . You know, I'd love you to send me $25 million for the campaign." He could say that.

Adam Cancryn/Dan Diamond: An angry Azar floats plans to oust FDA's Hahn: "Fights over vaccine standards have created an unbridgeable divide within HHS, officials said, but the White House is unlikely to approve any changes until after the election."

Russ Choma:

  • How Trump got away with hiding his Chinese business.

  • Donald Trump's campaign is running on fumes. He still hasn't cut the check he promised.

    Despite raising around $1 billion with his partners in the Republican Party since 2017, Trump is struggling to attract donations in the homestretch. In September, when his fundraising should have been reaching a crescendo, he pulled in just $81 million. . . . So, Trump is in a hole. What's he going to do about it? Unlike in 2016, when he gave around $55 million to fund his primary campaign, he hasn't provided a dime of his own money to the campaign yet this election cycle. Despite the promise he made in September and reports that he planned to fund his campaign to the tune of $100 million, he's not likely to contribute much at this point, if for no other reason than he probably can't afford to.

TJ Coles: How Trump killed 220,000 Americans: the first three months of covid. Section heds:

  • January: "It will all work out well"
  • February: "Very much under control"
  • March: "Just stay calm. It will go away"

Josh Dawsey/Rosaline S Helderman/David A Farenthold: How Trump abandoned his pledge to 'drain the swamp'. Subheds:

  • 'I know the system': When Trump launched his presidential bid, he distinguished himself from rivals for the Republican nomination by saying he would fund his own campaign, eschewing the support of donors who he said corrupted the political system by seeking favors in exchange for their contributions. . . . He ultimately reported spending $66 million of his own money on his winning campaign, only a small portion of the more than $564 million he raised by the end of 2016.
  • Donor pitches
  • A lobbying loophole
  • Backed by foreign lobbyists [Brian Ballard, Elliot Broidy, Paul Manafort] Last year, ProPublica found that at least 33 former Trump administration official shad found ways to essentially lobby after leaving government, despite the supposed five-year ban on such activities.

Matt Ford: Trump's scorched-earth war against federal employees.

Martin Longman: The curse of the Trump moneymen.

Dylan Matthews: Is Trump a fascist? 8 experts weigh in. "Call him a kleptocrat, an oligarch, a xenophobe, a racist, even an authoritarian. But he doesn't quite fit the definition of a fascist." Author surveyed Robert Paxton, Matthew Feldman, Stanley Payne, Roger Griffin, Sheri Berman, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Jason Brownlee, and Jason Stanley. FWIW, I've read relevant books by Paxton and Stanley, and I'm in the middle of one by Berman. Historians tend to get very particular about fascism, so it's hard to get them to apply the label to situations that vary in significant ways. On the other hand, anyone who grew up with deeper left-wing political roots will be highly attuned to motifs, airs, and mores redolent of fascism, because those are the warnings signs of your most dangerous enemies. To my nose, Trump reeks of fascism. I have no doubt that if you could transport Trump and/or his followers to Germany or Italy in the 1920s and 1930s they'd be totally at home with Hitler and Mussolini. Still, in America today they have to adjust their course to the very different political and historical terrain. It is, for instance, not nearly as easy to promote racism and military expansion now than it was during the heyday of European imperialism. I used to think that one difference between classic fascists and Trump was how the former's war trauma made them crave violence, but increasing numbers of Trump's followers have done just that. I don't know whether it helps anyone who isn't familiar with the history of fascism to call Trump a fascist -- a epithet that ignorant right-wingers like Jonah Goldberg and Dinesh D'Souza have stripped of all meaning -- especially when, as all eight writers show here, there are many more damning labels that easily apply to Trump.

Ed Pilkington: Parents of 545 children still not found three years after Trump separation policy.

Eyal Press: Trump's Labor Secretary is a wrecking ball aimed at workers: On Eugene Scalia, "a cunning lawyer committed to dismantling regulation, is weakening one employee protection after another."

Sean Rameswaram/Lauren Katz: A guide to the Trump administration's biggest scandals, accomplishments, and policies: A series of five podcasts looking back on the eon since Trump's inauguration.

Lisa Rein/Josh Dawsey/Toluse Olorunnipa: Trump's historic assault on the civil service was four years in the making.

President Trump's extraordinary directive allowing his administration to weed out career federal employees viewed as disloyal in a second term is the product of a four-year campaign by conservatives working from a little-known West Wing policy shop.

Soon after Trump took office, a young aide hired from the Heritage Foundation with bold ideas for reining in the sprawling bureaucracy of 2.1 million came up with a blueprint. Trump would hold employees accountable, sideline their labor unions and give the president more power to hire and fire them, much like political appointees. . . .

The result this week threatens to be the most significant assault on the nonpartisan civil service in its 137-year history: a sweeping executive order that strips job protections from employees in policy roles across the government.

David Roberts: A second Trump term would mean severe and irreversible changes in the climate. Didn't the first term already do that? Don't you mean a second term would be even worse than the first one?

Jamil Smith: How Donald rump talks about black people: "The president's patronizing, white-savior talk will likely stop if he loses, and that should motivate us all.

Peter Wade: Trump official planned to give Santa Claus performers early access to Covid-19 vaccine.

Mary L Trump: Psychiatrists know what's wrong with my uncle. Let them tell voters. Trump's niece, author of Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, is a PhD psychologist. Page led me to a Sept. 22, 2017 link by Carlos Lozada: Is Trump mentally ill? Or is America? Psychiatrists weigh in. It's a review of three books: Brandy X Lee, ed: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity, and Kurt Andersen: Fantasyland. Lozada has a recent book, What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era, which no doubt has a chapter expanding on this book review. I've read Frances' book, where he argues that it's America that's insane. One famous definition of insanity is repeating some act in the expectation that it will turn out differently. Electing Trump to a second term would prove that case damn conclusively.

Carl Zimmer: The Trump administration shut a vaccine safety office last year. What's the plan now?

Supreme Court Hearings and Other Injustices

Amy Coney Barrett is now one step away from becoming a Supreme Court justice, as the Senate voted to end debate, with a vote on Monday, which looks like a foregone conclusion. Democracy may be coming to the USA, but the Federalist Society is well-positioned to stop it.

Ronald Brownstein: What the Rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett is really about: "The Republican Party wants to shield itself from the growing Democratic coalition."

Masha Gessen: The ultimate "bullshit job": "It is difficult to find a better word than 'bullshit' to describe Lindsey Graham's closing statement on the third day of Amy Coney Barrett's Senate hearings." Essay expands to cover much more, citing Hannah Arendt (who "defined ideology as a single premise taken to its logical extreme and then used to explain the past and determine the future") and Ronald Reagan's "joke" about the horror of government help, before landing on the late David Graeber's rant about "bullshit jobs." Key paragraph:

We have gone from the strange spectacle of Reagan, the leader of the free world, stating that his government's actions are fundamentally suspect, to the even stranger spectacle of Trump, who openly dislikes his job, avoids doing it, and refuses to accept its responsibilities. Yet he desperately desires to keep his job and so, it seems, do most Republican elected officials. These are people who continually attack "government," in which they work, and "Washington," where they live, but they will apparently do most anything to keep their places in both. Imagine having to wage a long and gruelling campaign in order to land a job you believe is deserving only of scorn; imagine then spending the bulk of your working hours asking people for money so you can keep this job.

Gessen eventually returned to the hearings:

Republican senators, in other words, asked bullshit questions. Barrett laughed gamely, indulged their bullshit, and gave uniformly bullshit answers, both to bullshit questions and to substantive ones. She gave bullshit answers even when she appeared to be called upon merely to affirm the existence of a statute or a Constitutional norm. Barrett surely doesn't think that her future position on the Supreme Court is a bullshit job; Senate Republicans don't think that packing the courts with conservatives is bullshit work, either. But, like the people who are rushing her onto the bench, Barrett does seem to believe that the nomination and confirmation process are bullshit -- she shares the Trump Republican Party's contempt for the norms and processes of the government in which she has risen so far, so fast.

Linda Greenhouse: The Supreme Court we need.

Angus King Jr/Heather Cox Richardson: Amy Coney Barrett's judicial philosophy doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Stephanie Mencimer: Amy Coney Barrett is the least experienced Supreme Court nominee in 30 years.

Alex Shephard: Joe Biden and the return of the dreaded bipartisan commission: "The Democrat's proposed commission on court reform is an elaborate way of dodging the court-packing question. It also bodes ill for his presidency." The last big "bipartisan commission" was Simpson-Bowles, under Obama, where even the Democrat was a deficit hawk, agreeing to austerity moves that hobbled Obama's response to the recession he inherited. And sure, Obama did make significant progress at reducing the deficit, only to have Trump blow it wide open again with his tax cut. Certainly it would be nice to get a bipartisan consensus on critical issues, but the only case where effectively there is one is on America's military posture around the world, and that consensus has been bad for Americans, and has helped cripple the Democratic Party (perhaps the reason Republicans are so gung ho). One can imagine that there may be some minor reforms that both parties could agree to, like term limits for Justices, but current Republican majorities make even that unlikely (even though term limits has been a talking point for Republicans since Newt Gingrich put them in his "contract on America." But the real problem isn't something Republicans have any reason to compromise on. "Court packing" is fact, something Republicans have been working diligently at since 1970, when Nixon started nominating racists to the Supreme Court to overturn the New Deal and Brown v Board of Education. Especially since 2000, Mitch McConnell has played the Senate rules game to keep Obama nominees from being confirmed, while stocking up on Bush and Trump picks. Big wins in November could help Democrats start to roll back the damage, but with normal attrition it will take 20-30 years to restore the balance in favor of constitutional rights that some of us grew up expecting. Republicans will fight this rebalancing tooth and nail, as can already be seen with their hysterical reaction to Democratic revival of the idea of expanding the Supreme Court -- something last proposed by FDR in the 1930s, and derided then as "court-packing." I don't see anything happening on this front until Democrats win more seats, and it becomes even more obvious how out of step the Courts are with the wishes of the voters. Many of us can clearly see this coming, but since Trump won in 2016 the Courts have often stopped his most outrageous acts. Not often enough, and the trendline isn't good, but I'd venture that most people aren't aware of the problem yet. And while it's possible that the Courts will follow public opinion -- as they started to do in the late-1930s -- in which case the problem may not be as grave as we fear. I doubt it, but we need to let it play out a bit more. As in the 1930s, the threat of restructuring might help (remember "the switch in time that saved nine"?). I could even imagine putting a couple of token Republicans on a commission that winds up defending justice in America. But one that is half-controlled by the Federalist Society won't help at all.

Li Zhou: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Amy Coney Barrett's nomination -- with no Democrats present: "The committee vote on Barrett's nomination underscored Republicans' disregard for the rules."

Around the World

Kate Aronoff: The socialist win in Bolivia and the new era of lithium extraction: "An apparent victory for Evol Morales's Movement Toward Socialism shows that tomorrow's green energy won't look much like the old oil empires."

Michael Arria: Trump administration set to label human rights groups 'antisemitic' for criticizing Isarel. Specifically Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam. Refers to Nahal Toosi: US weighs labeling leading human rights groups 'anti-Semitic'.

Jakob Reimann: Arms, oil and Iran -- Israel's role in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Alex Ward: The US just brokered another peace deal for Israel, this time with Sudan: "At its core, it looks like the deal is really a trade where the US gives Sudan financial help in exchange for recognizing Israel."

Mark Weisbrot: Bolivians reclaim their democracy: "The overwhelming MAS election victory is a repudiation of the racist coup regime as well as of the Trump administration and the OAS, which helped install it."

Philip Weiss: Oren warns US Jews to 'be aware' Biden will defy Israel on Palestine and Iran issues. Israel's former ambassador to the US tries to influence America's presidential election. "Israeli Jews support Trump overwhelmingly; but Oren's warning is likely falling on deaf ears in the US."

Other Matters

Sam Adler-Bell: How police unions bully politicians.

Bryce Covert:

  • The pandemic sent Americans' health care coverage into free fall: "Between February and May, more than 5.4 million people lost their health insurance coverage." If we had Medicare-for-All, that number would have been zero.

  • How OSHA went AWOL during the pandemic. "Six months into the crisis, the agency had issued citations to just two employers." On the other hand:

    Across the country, at least 491 meatpacking plants have had confirmed cases of COVID, with a no fewer than 41,167 meatpacking workers testing positive, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit news organization. At least 193 workers have died.

    Since the pandemic began, OSHA, whose mission is "to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women," reports that it has received over 10,000 complaints from workers concerned about a lack of protections against the coronavirus.

Elisabeth Egan: Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the presidential race and wrote a best seller: The book is called Trust, which is a key concept, especially given how Trump has destroyed trust in American political institutions -- for that matter, his deregulation of industries will likely do immense harm to the perception that we can trust companies to act responsibly.

Shirin Ghaffary/Rani Molla: Why the US government is suing Google: "The Department of Justice says the company's anti-competitive business practices harm Americans."

Jenny Gross: Far-right groups are behind most US terrorist attacks, report finds. You mean the groups with racists and guns?

David Harvey: Socialists must be the champions of freedom. Extract from Harvey's new book, The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles.

Sean Illing: Trump exploited a broken press. Here's how to fix it. Interview with Jay Rosen, who says:

Another part of the answer is that "flood the zone" is a propaganda method. It's crude but well-suited to an age of media abundance.

In the Russian setting, it's called the firehose of falsehood. The most important feature is the constant production of falsehoods in every channel, every platform -- mixed with a little truth. Another key feature is that you don't care if the truth claims are contradictory. There's no need to be consistent. You use every tool you can. You throw out multiple crappy arguments rather than make one good one.

One of the goals of this method is to overwhelm and dishearten people rather than persuade them. It's about driving them from the public arena, getting them to give up on efforts to know the truth. The firehose of falsehood is very hard to oppose. It's difficult to know what to do in response.

Umair Irfan: Colorado is fighting its largest wildfire in history. Other massive blazes are close behind. "three of the four largest fires in Colorado history have ignited since July."

Roge Karma: The police shooting of Marcellis Stinnette and Tafara Williams, an unarmed black couple, explained.

Christopher Ketcham: Has the Forest Service been making wildfires worse? "The logging industry has long promoted science suggesting logging suppresses fire. A lot of recent research disagrees."

Nancy Kurshan: I was in the room where it happened: One woman's perspective on The Trial of the Chicago 7. More on the movie:

Nicholas Lemann: The Republican identity crisis after Trump. Long article, may be worth thinking about later rather than sooner, but for now not a topic I care much about. As far as I'm concerned, Republicans can shrivel up from shame and crawl into a dark hole never to be seen again, but as long as they don't, at least they'll be available as an enemy that can warm your hearts to even the most lacklustre Democrat. I think it's clear now that Democrats made a huge mistake in the 1980s when they decided that the way back to power was by appealing to business as the party of efficiency and growth. Sure, that pitch got Clinton and Obama elected president, but did little for the rest of the party. And sure, business prospered under Democrats -- much more, in fact, than it had during Republican terms -- but the Democrats failed to win over the cold hearts of the rich. After all, while Democrats helped the rich get richer, they also believed that others would also benefit. On the other hand, Republicans didn't care if their policies hurt the working poor. Since 2016, Democrats have had to rethink their assumptions, and many of the have decided that the way forward is to focus not on raising money but on inspiring votes. The better they do that, the better they deliver their promises, the more they'll control their future. Meanwhile, Republicans have given up on appealing to the majority, focusing instead on scamming the system. Maybe if they lose bad enough, they'll start to reconsider policies that people might actually vote for. But even if Trump loses, which seems very likely, don't expect Republicans to learn much soon. They'll feel cheated first, because they feel so entitled to their own cheating, and they can't even fathom the absurdity of their conceits. The bigger question is what happens to the Democrats after the election. If Biden loses, the establishment wing of the Democratic party will be discredited, and the Party will lurch hard left. If he wins, I expect Biden will restore the Clinton-Obama establishment, but with an eye to delivering enough progress leftward to keep the left from breaking into open revolt. If he can navigate the middle ground, he can be very successful, and the left will revert to being something we aspire to, rather than the core of resistance against the right. Biden can compromise with corporate interests, but one thing he cannot afford to do is to let the Trump Republicans off the hook for the many injuries and crimes they have committed. The unity and coherence of the Democratic Party is based not on shared beliefs -- other than a deep-seated belief in liberal democracy -- but on a common enemy. As Republicans are unlikely to change quickly following defeat, Biden needs to exploit memory of Trump to maintain a common front.

Steven Levitsky/Daniel Ziblatt: End minority rule: "Either we become a truly multiracial democracy or we cease to be a democracy at all."

German Lopez:

Peter Maass: When we talk about Fox News, we need to talk about the Murdoch family too: "The Murdochs own Fox News but rarely get the scrutiny they deserve for bankrolling racism and hatred."

James A Morone: Nothing new: How US politics turned tribal, from George Washington to Donald Trump.

Alex Pareene: Liberals are losing the journalism wars: "As major media outlets erect paywalls, conservative publishers are flooding the country with free right-wing propaganda paid for by Republicans."

Kim Phillips-Fein: The metamorphosis: The making of the unequal city. Review of Lizabeth Cohen: Savings America's Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age.

John Quiggin: Too cheap to meter: "Ultra-low interest rates have fundamentally changed the arithmetic of renewable energy."

Ingrid Robeyns: Why publish books open access? Something to consider. OBP's catalog is here.

Alexander Sammon: The collapse of long-term care insurance: "Attempts to have the private market manage support and services for the elderly or people with disabilities have utterly failed."

Gene Seymour: Baseball's race problem: I soured on baseball in the 1990s, and can't even tell you who won he World Series this year (if, indeed, it has been decided), so I don't share Seymour's concerns for the future of the sport/business. But baseball did mean a lot to me from 1957 at least through the 1964 pennant, and from 1976 into the 1990s. Following a cousin, I was a NY Yankees fan, and I moved to New York in 1976 as my team regained its winning ways. But as early as I can remember, I was hugely impressed with black baseball stars (even when the only black on my favorite team was 1962 MVP Elston Howard). Three stars from the 1964 World Series died in the last few weeks: Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Whitey Ford. The St. Louis Cardinals were the last team in the National League to integrate, but black stars led them back to a pennant they hadn't competed for since 1946: the picture shows Gibson, Brock, and Curt Flood (but not Bill White). For fans of my age, the best thing that ever happened to baseball was integration.

Libby Watson: There are no good Republicans for a Biden White House: "If the best prospects he can dig up are reclamation projects like John Kasich and Meg Whitman, then just recruit Democrats."

Laura Weiss: Confronting the deep roots of violence in El Salvador: "Robert Lovato's Unforgetting explores the traumatic history of a country torn apart by wars and gangs -- and the dangers of not facing the past."

Lizzie Widdicombe: What can you do if Trump stages a coup? I doubt this will be a problem, but Trump has invited us to prepare for the worst.

Li Zhou: Why a Senate vote on stimulus has failed, again.

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