Sunday, December 6, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

I've been paying more attention to EOY album lists this week than to news. Started collecting this Saturday evening, and figure I got enough.


Trump's Election Fraud

Plus a few more election-related stories, including the Georgia Senate runoffs. Note that: Biden's vote lead over Trump now more than 7 million.

Susan B Glasser: The President is acting crazy, so why are we shrugging it off? Well, we voted him out of office. What more can we do? And unless, in due course, he figures out some way to defy the eviction, why give him the satisfaction of attention? It's not like we don't have anything else to worry about.

Ryan Grim: Goldman Sachs log exposes David Perdue's stock trading claim as a lie. Actually, both Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have notorious stock trading scandals. (Steve M also reminds us that Loeffler is "the wealthiest member of the Senate" and "Loeffler's husband is literally the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange." Another tweet posted this picture of "one of Loeffler's 5 houses.") With enormous sums being spent on this race, scandals like that should be drummed into every voter's noggin. More on Georgia:

Benjamin Hart: Trump funds political future by claiming he won in 2020.

Zach Montellaro/Elena Schneider: Trump's post-election cash grab floods funds to new PAC.

Andrew Prokop:

Aaron Rupar:

Jeff Singer: Ohio's decade-old gerrymander still performed exactly as the GOP intended in 2020.

Peter Slevin: Trump's election-fraud bluster finds an audience.

Matt Stieb: DOJ investigating 'bribery-for-pardon' scheme involving White House.

Biden Prospects

We're starting to see announcements of Biden's picks for the cabinet and key staff positions -- see Joe Biden's cabinet begins to take shape.

Kate Aronoff: The problem with putting a BlackRock alum in charge of greening the economy: "Brian Deese, expected to head the Biden administration's National Economic Council, is a longtime adherent of a disastrous energy strategy."

David Atkins: Media must focus on larger truths during the Biden presidency: I'm not a betting person, but odds of this happening are pretty slim. Presumably they won't have to cope with Trump's "flood the zone with bullshit" approach to PR, but let's face it: they were suckers for bullshit; also a lot of it is endemic to using social media as a PR engine, which Biden's staff will continue to do, even if they're not as flagrantly duplicitous as Trump's staff have been. Atkins also wrote a piece on How do you deradicalize the Republican Party?. Well, it would help if the media got smarter and dug deeper, holding Republicans accountable not just for their frequent gaffes but for the real consequences of their demented programs. After all, what matters more than deradicalizing the Republican Party is defeating them. Do that, and they'll adjust on their own.

Rosa Brooks: It's time for a woman to run the Defense Department. Advertisement for Brooks' former boss, Michele Flournoy, although it could also reflect Brooks' own ambitions. I try to cut her some slack, mostly because her famous leftist mother Barbara Ehrenreich still seems to respect her, and this is one case where coming from a famous family is unlikely to have done her any favors. Still, I couldn't care less about the sex or race or religion of any government agency heads, but I'm unlikely to like anyone under serious consideration for the Defense Department. By the way, see Robert Wright/Conor Echols: Grading candidates for Biden's foreign policy team: Michèle Flournoy (grade even lower than expected; hell, even lower than Antony Blinken's).

Linda Pentz Gunter: In promoting new nuclear power, Biden-Harris back fiction over science.

Ben Jacobs: Harry Reid's former lieutenant on what it's like to fight Mitch McConnell. Interview with Adam Jentleson.

Paul Krugman:

Dylan Matthews: Joe Biden is taking office amid a poverty crisis: "Columbia researchers project that 5 million to 12 million more people will be in poverty in January than a year before."

David Roberts: Joe Biden should do everything at once. Nice to see some thinking about the Obama administration's failures to get things done given a hostile, obstructionist Republican Party. Subheds:

  • Obama's efforts to collect and spend "political culture" were mostly for naught
  • Two-party partisan politics really is a zero-sum game
  • Biden should run a blitz
  • The new rule of partisan politics is to act, not react

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 14.8 million+ cases (14 day change +12%, total up 1.5 million in last week), 282,257 deaths (+48%), 101,190 hospitalized (+27%).

Chas Danner: Rudy Giuliani has tested positive for Covid-19.

Elaine Godfrey: Iowa is what happens when government does nothing.

Kasey Grewe: Headlines don't capture the horror we saw: "I chronicled what Covid-19 did to a hospital. America must not let down its guard."

Carolyn Kormann: Countdown to a coronavirus vaccine.

Robinson Meyer/Alexis C Madrigal: The US has passed the hospital breaking point: "A new statistic shows that health-care workers are running out of space to treat Covid-19 patients."

David Remnick: Atul Gawande on coronavirus vaccines and prospects for ending the pandemic.

David Roberts: The scariest thing about global warming (and Covid-19): "Shifting baselines syndrome."

Dylan Scott: America's failures have led to a new daily record in Covid-19 deaths.

Still More on Donald Trump

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: Barr taps Durham as special counsel, pushing probe into Biden era. John Durham has been investigating "the origins of the FBI's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election," looking (to little avail) or pin the investigation of Trump on Obama. By designating Durham a Special Counsel, Barr hopes to extend the witch hunt past Jan. 20.

"In an appointment secretly conferred on Durham prior to the election and only disclosed now that Barr concedes there is no evidence of election fraud to overturn the results, Barr is using the special counsel law for a purpose it was not intended: to continue a politically motivated investigation long after Barr leaves office," said House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff in a statement.

More on Durham:

Jonathan Guyer: The lucrative after life of a Trump official: "Trump's former appointees are profiting from their time in the White House -- H.R. McMaster most of all."

Sarah Jones: White evangelicals made a deal with the devil. Now what?

Michael Klare: Trump's pernicious military legacy: "From the forever wars to the cataclysmic wars."

People seldom notice that Trump's approach to military policy has always been two-faced. Even as he repeatedly denounced the failure of his predecessors to abandon those endless counterinsurgency wars, he bemoaned their alleged neglect of America's regular armed forces and promised to spend whatever it took to "restore" their fighting strength. "In a Trump administration," he declared in a September 2016 campaign speech on national security, America's military priorities would be reversed, with a withdrawal from the "endless wars we are caught in now" and the restoration of "our unquestioned military strength."

Anita Kumar: Trump to restart foreign deals, breaking a post-presidency norm.

Martin Longman: Trump's maddening war against Section 230 which protects digital publishers. "It's not just Democrats for whom January 20th cannot come soon enough."

David Nakamura/Juliet Eilperin/Lisa Rein: As Trump rants over election, his administration accelerates push to lock in policy and staffing gains.

Administration officials are rushing to auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, slash U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, implement new rules to limit drug prices and create a new personnel category for civil servants in policymaking roles that would strip them of most job protections. The Department of Homeland Security is racing to complete an additional 50 miles of wall barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the State and Treasury departments are preparing additional economic sanctions on China and Iran.

Senate Republicans -- who may lose their governing majority in January, depending on a pair of runoffs in Georgia -- are moving swiftly to confirm Trump's conservative picks to the federal courts and other nominees whose tenures will extend into the Biden presidency and beyond.

Sarah Okeson: Trump's ERA clears way for "Bhopal 2" here in the US.

Rachel Ramirez: The high rate of executions during Trump's last weeks in office, explained: "Trump has scheduled more federal executions than any president in at least a century." More specifically:

Brian Resnick: Why Trump taking credit for the Covid-19 vaccines could be a good thing: "After he leaves office, he can help convince supporters to get vaccinated for Covid-19." Wishful thinking, but don't expect he'd do it out of his deep well of public-spiritedness. On the other hand, he could probably make a bundle as a Pharma shill.

David Rohde: William Barr's break with Donald Trump: "The Attorney General is, at long last, defending American democracy." Jeez, he says one thing, carefully worded to technically accurate while a minimum of comfort to his enemies, and some people are eager to acclaim him as an American hero. The best I can say for Barr is that he, unlike Rudy Giuliani (to pick the most obvious example), has always known where the line of the law lies, and how to tripping over it and getting indicted or disbarred. That may occasionally irritate Trump, and feel free to enjoy Trump's agitation, but Barr has actually been a much more effective defender of his client than Giuliani has. If you need a reminder, look back at how Barr handled the Mueller Investigation, showing Mueller a great deal of personal respect while bottling up and defanging the Report. Again, contrast with Giuliani, who accomplished little more than getting his henchmen indicted.

Matthew Rosza: This Marxist philosopher foresaw the rise of Trumpism more than 80 years ago. Title like that I had to click, if nothing else just to get the name. Of course, 80 years ago isn't as far back as it used to be. In fact, it only takes you to 1940, which gives one plenty of time to observe the rise of Adolf Hitler. Sure, Trump isn't Hitler Redux, but you're hardly breaking new ground pointing out similarities. The name is Walter Benjamin, a special interest of mine in a time closer to then than to now, and the key point is:

Benjamin, a Marxist and a Jew who was thus obviously opposed to the Nazis, postulated that modern fascists succeed when they are entertainers. Not just any entertainer -- a circus clown or a juggler-turned-fascist wouldn't do. Specifically, modern fascists were entertainers with a distinct aesthetic, one that appeals to mass grievances by encouraging their supporters to feel like they are personally expressing themselves through their demagogue of choice.

Benjamin's insight, which appears to have been largely forgotten, is that keeping fascism out of power means recognizing how they use aesthetic entertainment to create their movements. That does require us to admit, cringe-inducing though it may be, that Trump is an artist -- albeit a tacky, shallow and transparently self-aggrandizing one. More importantly, his movement, the MAGA crowd, has a distinct aesthetic which he has created and honed for them.

There is, by the way, much more to Benjamin than the essay cited, and much more to he essay than the use it's put to here -- John Berger wrote a whole book, Ways of Seeing, based on the essay. There is much more to be gained by understanding Benjamin within the context of his time than in trying to use him to decipher fascism today. But it is also true that those of us who understood fascism through the critiques of Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and fellow thinkers had a leg up on you dogmatic anti-Marxist liberals. The other point I want to make is that fascist aesthetics are only such when adopted by fascists for fascist political aims. It's not random what fascists choose, but it's not commutative either: you don't become a fascist because you like swastikas or monster trucks or "reality TV," and you don't stop being a fascist because you hold to more conservative aesthetics.

In the Courts

Ian Millhiser:

Around the World

Dave DeCamp: President Trump orders to withdraw the 'majority' of troops from Somalia: "The Plan will reposition troops to neighboring countries to allow for 'cross-border operations'" -- ergo, business as usual, no big change. Also on the Somalia war you probably didn't know about:

Yossi Gurvitz: Israeli court rules that Nation State law calls for discrimination against Palestinian citizens.

Daniel Immerwahr: Fort Everywhere: "How did the United States become entangled in a cycle of endless war?" Review of David Vine's book, The United States of War: A Global History of America's Endless Conflicts, From Columbus to the Islamic State. I'm reminded here of point 2 in Mark Kurlansky's Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea: "Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them." Or as Madeleine Albright put it, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" War follows militarism. Put bases all around the world and what you're protecting soon reduces to little more than the bases themselves.

James North: Coverage of Israel's killing of Iranian scientist is marred by inaccuracy and inhumanity.

Richard Silverstein: Iranian authorities: Israeli assassination carried out remotely by satellite.

Alex Ward:

Other Matters of Interest

Jariel Arvin:

Paul Blest: The Democratic Party will keep betraying labor. It's time to launch a workers' party. Article paired with: Jonathan Smucker: Don't abandon the Democratic Party -- take it over. I answered this question after the Ralph Nader debacle in 2000. What bothered me wasn't throwing the election to Bush -- Gore campaigned the way he wanted to -- but the fact that even in Kansas, where Gore didn't campaign at all, he outpolled Nader 10-to-1. I realized then that the people you need to appeal to had already decided to be Democrats, and if anything that's even more true today. Sure, Democratic socialists and neoliberals have huge differences, and are joined today largely by fear of ever greater Republican fascism. But the path of political progress goes through the people, and the people most open to progressive proposals are already in the Democratic Party. Win there, or go home. (Of course, I have no problem with sitting outside practical politics when that's the only space you can be right in -- one of my formative political journals was called The Minority of One. Just don't pretend that doing so is some kind of viable political strategy.)

Zach Carter: The power of ideas and the idea of power: "The progressives won the debate about whether there is a power elite. Now they need to keep the corporate elite from destroying what's left of our democracy."

Jeffrey Frank: Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz tell the full sordid story of Spiro Agnew: A review of their book, Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-Up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House.

Christina Goldbaum/Will Wright: 'Existential peril': Mass transit faces huge service cuts across US.

Eric Levitz:

German Lopez:

Ed Morales: Privatizing Puerto Rico: "The rushed sell-off of the territory's electrical utility is part of a larger move to gut public goods for private profit."

Anna North: The government's failure to provide economic relief is killing people.

Alex Ross: Revisiting Hitler's final days in the bunker: Very hard to read this piece without trying to transpose Trump into Hitler's bunker -- not that Trump is Hitler, let alone that the "radical leftists" besieging Trump's White House are anywhere near as lethal as the Red Army bearing down on Berlin. But psychologically, it must bear some likeness, even if only in Trump's fevered delusions. Sure, Hitler fell harder, but when you start from the pinnacle of Trump's ego, the downfall must feel infinite.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Let's get small: Some snippets:

  • Joe Biden's cabinet is shaping up to be the most diverse group of ideological clones ever assembled.
  • According to Obama's book, the breakdown on intervening in Libya was as follows: Against: Biden, Gates, Mullen, Daley. For: HRC, Rice, Powers, Blinken. He, of course, was conflicted, but bombed Libya anyway.
  • Nancy Pelosi has now served as the leader of the Democrats in the House for as long as Leonid Brezhnev served as General Secretary of the Communist Party, 18 years.