Monday, January 25, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Tuesday before Inauguration Day, we were watching television, and someone made a comment about what that evening felt like. I don't remember what he said, but the feeling I had reminded me of Christmas Eve when I was a child. I was anticipating a day of peace, tranquility, and bounteous presents. Not a feeling I've had often since, so I was surprised to find how vivid it felt. Still, unlike my childhood, I didn't get up early and excited the next day. I slept in, so by the time I came downstairs it had happened: Trump left the White House and flew off to Florida; Biden and Harris had been sworn in, and my wife reported that the ceremony had been peaceful, solemn, and a bit inspiring.

Then she complained about something stupid Jake Sullivan had written, but I wasn't in any mood to go there. Biden's domestic policy promises to offer a break from the recent past: not only from the increasingly extreme Republican service to the rich and the bigoted but from the supposedly moderate (but more like Reagan-lite) Clinton-Obama periods. On the other hand, Biden's initial take on foreign policy is to return to pre-Trump orthodoxy, which includes a lot of destructive baggage -- not least personnel heavily implicated in past mistakes. No doubt I'll write more about that in the future, but I'd rather not spoil the vibe. Besides, Biden's first two foreign policy moves -- rejoining WHO and the Paris Accords -- were exactly right, both as policy and priority.

By the way, this should be my last Weekend Roundup. I started doing something like this in June 2007, in a segment I originally called Weekly Links, then renamed Weekend Roundup a couple months later. I saw it as a method to keep track of what was happening, to keep a journal for future reference. I've collected those pieces in book files, one for 2000-08, then one more for each subsequent four-year term. Trump's ended this week, so I figure I'm done with it, but I don't feel like starting another one on Biden. Age factors into this, as does weariness, and a desire to focus on other projects. But also I don't want to spend the next four years regularly finding fault with Biden like I did with Obama. I wound up very bitter over Obama's failures. I don't expect much better from Biden, but also would like to enjoy what little good we get out of him.

Over the last year, I've been spending an average of 3 days a week putting Weekend Roundup together, and that's way too much. I imagine they went quicker further back, but lately we've seen both an explosion of scandalous stories worth covering and of thoughtful critiques -- the latter is one reason I'm finding my own contributions less and less necessary. I wonder, for instance, if it might be more useful for me to occasionally tweet links and notes as they occur to me, rather than saving them up for a weekly piece that few ever manage to read through. But freeing up time will also allow me to focus on other projects, not least other ways to present my thinking.

I've long thought of the world in terms of possible book projects, and I have several of those stored up, as well as a fairly vast trove of writing. (A quick wc of the notebook directory counts 7,169,740 words, not including 8,536 so far here.) While they are currently organized chronologically, one project would be to go back and pull select excerpts and sort them thematically. I have a publisher interested in publishing a short volume of extracts, so that should be the low fruit. Beyond that, we'll see. I also have a few other ideas to start sorting out. We'll go into them later.

I'll continue doing Music Week on Mondays, although this week will be late -- not just because this Weekend Roundup ate up my Monday but because we're approaching the end of January, and that's when I like to wrap up the previous year. That should include the last additions to the EOY aggregate files, the freeze of a copy of the 2020 file, and so forth. I'll add more 2020 records to my EOY lists as I find them, and move on to 2021, but I expect to cut back on my searching and tracking.


Table of contents:


Exit Trump

Trump pardoned a bunch of people -- mostly friends, fellow travelers, and people who committed crimes Trump is particularly fond (or maybe envious?) of, including a couple rappers busted for guns -- then flew off to Florida, with considerably less pomp than he had hoped for. This section also includes a few more pieces on the Capitol insurrection and its supporters. Seems like the right place, since Trump owns all that.


Alex Abad-Santos: Donald Trump's presidency was the worst thing that happened to the Trump brand. Includes comments from "five branding experts."

Zeeshan Aleem/Sean Collins: On his last full day in office, Trump sinks to his lowest low in major polls. There's a tweet here by Manu Raju showing "final presidential approval ratings before leaving office," with Trump at 34%, just a bit above Truman (1952) at 32%, but one name is conspicuously missing: GW Bush, in 2008-09 -- they mention that Bush's net approval rose 13 points between the 2008 election and Obama's inauguration, but don't say from what (if memory serves, well less than 34%) to what. (Obviously, one difference between Bush and Trump was that the former exited gracefully, whereas the latter went kicking and screaming.) Also missing was Herbert Hoover in 1933, for lack of polling data back then, but he would have ranked pretty low.

Bill Allison: Organizers of Trump rally had been on campaign's payroll.

Zack Beauchamp: Trump is gone. But the threat of right-wing violence that arose under his watch remains.

Tom Boggioni: Does Ivanka Trump really have a "political future" after this disaster? "Ivanka and Jared Kushner reportedly "in a bit of a panic" -- her plan to primary Marco Rubio in '22 may be on hold." I didn't think she had any political future even before Trump's post-election death spiral. Aside from the name, she doesn't have any of the charisma that gave Trump his limited following, nor does she have any substance to make up for her shortcomings. Same goes for the rest of the clan. I'd go further and speculate that the whole aristocracy thing has worn thin (and not just thanks to the Bushes and Clintons, although they do come to mind), but that's just an added handicap. Moreover, while I find Rubio thoroughly loathsome, I suspect he will be very hard to beat.

Christina Cauterucci: What Donald Trump did to DC.

Kyle Cheney: Trump authorizes DOJ to declassify Russia probe documents.

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: Feds: Evidence shows well-laid plan by some Capitol insurrectionists.

Adam Ciralsky: "The President threw us under the bus": Embedding with Pentagon leadership in Trump's chaotic last week.

Anthony Clark: Will there be a Trump presidential library? Don't count on it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Trump is out. Are we ready to talk about how he got in?

The chasm between professed ideal and actual practice is not surprising. No one wants to believe themselves to be the villain of history, and when you have enough power, you can hold reality at bay. Raw power transfigured an age of serfdom and warmongering into one of piety and courtly love.

This is not merely a problem of history. Twice now, Rudy Giuliani has incited a mob of authoritarians. In the interim, "America's Mayor" was lauded locally for crime drops that manifested nationally. No matter. The image of Giuliani as a pioneering crime fighter gave cover to his more lamentable habits -- arresting whistleblowers, defaming dead altar boys, and raiding homeless shelters in the dead of night. Giuliani was, by Jimmy Breslin's lights, "blind, mean, and duplicitous," a man prone to displays "of great nervousness if more than one black at a time entered City Hall." And yet much chin-stroking has been dedicated to understanding how Giuliani, once the standard-bearer for moderate Republicanism, a man who was literally knighted, was reduced to inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol. The answer is that Giuliani wasn't reduced at all. The inability to see what was right before us -- that Giuliani was always, in Breslin's words, "a small man in search of a balcony" -- is less about Giuliani and more about what people would rather not see.

And what is true of Giuliani is particularly true of his master. It was popular, at the time of Donald Trump's ascension, to stand on the thinnest of reeds in order to avoid stating the obvious. It was said that the Trump presidency was the fruit of "economic anxiety," of trigger warnings and the push for trans rights. We were told that it was wrong to call Trump a white supremacist, because he had merely "drawn upon their themes."

George T Conway III: Donald Trump's new reality: "Former president, private citizen and, perhaps, criminal defendant."

Nick Corasaniti: Rudy Giuliani sued by Dominion Voting Systems over false election claims.

Michael Crowley: Trump's '1776 report' defends America's founding on the basis of slavery and blasts progressivism. That was quick, given that the "advisory committee" wasn't established until September 2020, but when all you're doing is writing up pseudohistory for preconceived political purposes, it wasn't that big of a reach. And how funny they released it on Martin Luther King Day? We often comment on how often Trump lies, but rarely on how today's lies depend on belief in a mythic past constructed of lies meant not just to misinform but to prevent us from understanding how we got to where we are. For more:

Josh Dawsey/Michael Scherer: Trump jumps into a divisive battle over the Republican Party -- with a threat to start a 'MAGA Party'. Won't happen, and not just because Trump is too old and lazy and ignorant to become the American Marine Le Pen. If he did, the rump Republicans would have to destroy him, and he wouldn't last a minute against Team Fox. Further comment:

Ryan Devereaux: Capitol attack was culmination of generations of far-right extremism.

Tom Dreisbach/Meg Anderson: Nearly 1 in 5 defendants in Capitol riot cases served in the military. That's three times the share of veterans in the adult population (7%).

Josh Gerstein/Kyle Cheney: Trump pardons dozens, including Steve Bannon, as he exits White House. As noted in the intro, the most interesting thing about the pardons is what they reveal about Trump's psyche, as he picked out people who were useful to him, and/or people who committed crimes he could identify with. What's less clear at this moment is how much graft was involved, and how close it came to him personally. After all, his Blagojevic pardon doesn't immunize him from being charged for committing virtually the same crime. Clearly, people around him were actively collecting money to influence pardons, but some of the better publicized cases (like Joe Exotic) didn't happen. A third question, which we still know less about, is where the "self-pardon" and all the "pre-emptive pardons" went (aside from Bannon, who has been charged but not yet convicted). Some pieces:

Karen Heller: Attorney Roberta Kaplan is about to make Trump's life extremely difficult: "On the other side of Donald Trump's turbulent presidency, the lawyers are waiting." She has three lawsuits pending against Trump, in what promises to be a booming business. She also co-founded the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, which "offers financial assistance for plaintiffs filing harassment cases."

Kali Holloway: Are we witnessing the emergence of a new 'lost cause'? "Just as after the Civil War, desperate attempts to preserve white supremacy are being camouflaged as a valorous fight for a noble end."

Umair Irfan: A federal court just struck down Trump's attempt to make power plants even dirtier.

Peter Kafka: How will Trump handle life without Twitter and Facebook? Ask Alex Jones.

Glenn Kessler: Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims as president. Nearly half came in his final year. Well, maybe they should have paid more attention earlier.

Ankush Khardori: The Trump administration let Boeing settle a killer case for almost nothing.

DOJ under Trump was unprecedentedly lax in its efforts to fight financial fraud and white-collar crime -- which have reached all-time highs while criminal prosecutions in the area have hit all-time lows, and which have also included high-level meddling by political appointees in major corporate investigations. Trump's Justice Department made a preelection push to persuade credulous observers that it was finally cracking down on corporate crime by hastily completing an antitrust case against Google, announcing a settlement with Purdue Pharma over its marketing of the drug OxyContin, and finalizing a deal with Goldman Sachs to resolve a lengthy foreign bribery investigation -- but even that effort was decidedly less impressive than it appeared, and it made the announcement of the Boeing deal, just days before the end of the Trump administration, even more conspicuous.

Carol D Leonnig/Nick Miroff: Trump extended Secret Service protection to his adult children and three top officials as he left office. The officials: Steven Mnuchin, Mark Meadows, and Robert C O'Brien. Pence is also entitled to protection for six months after leaving office. Clinton, Bush, and Obama made similar arrangements for daughters in college or high school, but not for staff.

Eric Levitz: We're lucky the Trump presidency wasn't worse: "Electing an authoritarian reality star brought us mass death and insurrection. But it's also left us with a fighting chance to fortify our democracy." It will take some time to assess how disastrous the Trump presidency turns out. The most obvious question is how easy it will be to reverse its many bad policies and acts -- obviously the lifetime court appointments loom large there, but executive orders take time, legislation even more (especially with such a thin majority), many repercussions only slowly emerge. One should recall that Taft-Hartley, passed over Truman's veto by Republican Congress elected in 1946, took until the 1980s to cripple the labor movement (although it had a more immediate effect in dissuading the AFL-CIO from organizing in the South). While Trump was the weak link in his administration, it is already clear that his underlings were very effective at imposing their will on the federal bureaucracy.

Eric Lipton: Trump administration quietly eased sanctions on Israeli billionaire.

Sara Luterman: The ignominious deceits of Congressman Cawthorn: "Representative Madison Cawthorn has misled the public about training for the Paralympics, just as he misrepresented his education and business history."

Steve M: Guy proposing a Donald Trump highway checks all the boxes: Gun nut, Covid denialist, QAnon fan: Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini.

Amanda Marcotte: Trump's coup didn't fail just from incompetence -- credit the progressive activists who stopped him. One thing I flashed on while the Capitol was being overrun was the Soviet coup attempt against Gorbachev. It was stopped by a massive outpouring of citizens in the street, which fairly quickly convinced the military not to go through with the coup. One thing notable throughout Trump's whole effort to steal the election was that his dead-enders were almost never met by anti-Trump voters -- about the only appearance of the latter was a brief celebration once the election was called. This was because demonstrations of support for Biden weren't necessary. The vote counts broke in Biden's favor -- very narrowly in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona, but clear enough for the people who counted them -- and Trump's legal (and political) challenges were easily rebuffed. Biden voters learned to trust the system, so when the final insurrection took place, we could trust in the cops to restore order (not that a few didn't help order break down in the first place). Still, I wonder how well founded that faith was. I'm still bothered by how Republicans ran 4-5 points better, especially in battleground states and critical Senate contests, than polls suggested. While there are explanations that aren't completely implausible, it does seem like Republicans have some kind of hidden edge -- not enough to save Trump, but enough to set them up very nicely elsewhere. So I'm not convinced that the election wasn't stolen; just that it wasn't stolen from Trump. And I'll also note that had Trump's steal succeeded, he'd be facing much larger street protests than he was able to foment. We saw a bit of that in 2017 when the electoral college gave him a win with a three million vote deficit, and it would have been much worse this time (or, I suppose, more glorious, if you're into that sort of thing). Even though the right is far more violent than the left, I shudder to think about the turmoil and heavy-handed repression a Trump victory would have generated.

Nick Martin: Republicans rethink "law and order" once they become its target: One of the most common problems we have in America is people who can't imagine what it would feel like should the tables be turned. This despite the fact that we've all heard some version of the golden rule, such as "do not do to others that which you would not like done to yourselves." However, while one might imagine this problem to be widespread, it likely occurs much more often among right-wingers, who believe that people are intrinsically unequal and should be sorted into hierarchies where they are treated differently, than with the left, who believe that all people are fundamentally similar. It is far easier to imagine how others may feel if you recognize that we all feel much the same.

This is how you end up with Steve Stivers telling cops posted at the Capitol that he believes the metal detectors are unconstitutional while pledging his support to legislation that installs "metal detectors and armed resource officers" in American schools. And people are carrying weapons onto the floor: Madison Cawthorn openly admitted to The Smoky Mountain News last Thursday that he was carrying a loaded gun during the Capitol riot.

The Capitol riot -- in the eyes of the majority of House Republicans, as evidenced by their votes to decertify the election -- was not a crisis. The metal detectors, however, are another story.

Seth Maxon: Violence is mainstream Republican politics now: "The party spent these four years increasingly accepting, then celebrating, right-wing threats and attacks." Possibly the deepest article in a series called What We Learned.

Jane Mayer: Why Mitch McConnell dumped Donald Trump? "Was it a moral reckoning or yet another act of political self-interest?" Silly question.

Ian Millhiser:

Zach Montellaro: State Republicans push new voting restrictions after Trump's loss: "Georgia is at the center of the effort, with state Republicans discussing voter ID changes and other new policies after Biden won the state."

David Neiwert: Global radical right celebrated when extremists breached the Capitol -- and drew lessons from it.

Rick Perlstein: This is us: Why the Trump era ended in violence.

Daniel Politi: Arizona GOP censures Cindy McCain for failing to support Donald Trump. One of many examples as the far-right purges intensify. Nor was she the only one: The Arizona GOP censures 3 prominent members for not sufficiently supporting Trump. The others are Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake.

Andrew Prokop: Why Trump couldn't steal the election -- and how a future demagogue could.

Francine Prose: The last four years of Trump were hell. What a relief it's finally over: "I don't cry easily, but this week I just burst into tears thinking about all we have lived through."

Aja Romano: Kicking people off social media isn't about free speech.

Aaron Rupar:

Theodore Schleifer: Trump issued a pardon for the man at the center of an epic fight between Google and Uber: "The full pardon of Anthony Levandowski came out of nowhere."

Alex Shephard: Why Donald Trump is already teasing a 2024 campaign. Because he wants Republican Senators to convict him? More likely because he wants another election slush fund. Or maybe he just figures he needs to spread a little shit around to attack the media flies? The changes of any of those things working out are slim and getting slimmer, and in each case the attention is likely to do him more harm than good. He never achieved his goal of getting tired of winning, but I bet he gets real tired of losing.

Tierney Sneed/Matt Shuham: The Capitol mob was only the finale of Trump's conspiracy to overturn the election.

Rebecca Solnit: The Trump era wasn't all bad. We saw progress -- thanks to social movements. The optimism fairy strikes again. Yes, it was all bad. Any time millions of Americans have to take to the streets to protest disasters, atrocities, and injustices reveals that the system has broken down in some fundamental way. Maybe those protests will amount to something, but more often than not they won't. Moreover, protest space is increasingly being taken over right-wingers who make a mockery of the progressive protests we grew up with. In any case, protests take a lot of effort and tsuris. It would be much preferable if you could just sit down with people in a position to do something, and resolve your differences in ways that are mutually beneficial. Although I agree with Solnit that independent single-issue movements are still useful, the most important change I see over the last four years has been a turn toward practical electoral politics. And while Trump inadvertently spurred that by being such an ass, by important development was how Bernie Sanders showed that progressive Democrats could run effective campaigns without having to pander to business interests, as the "New Democrats" had done.

Elizabeth Spiers: Farewell to Trump's baby sociopaths: "Good riddance to the fake redneck, the cancer-charity grifter, and the amoral Florida woman." Not bad, but it shouldn't be hard to come with better tags -- e.g., ones that build on "baby sociopaths."

But we also must bid farewell to the Trump children: the ambulatory evidence that narcissism, incompetence, and corruption are genetically inherited traits. Like their decency-challenged paterfamilias, they hardly bothered to veil their contempt for democratic norms, and used every available opportunity to exploit their positions -- and by extension, taxpayers -- to make money and accumulate unearned power. They deserve their own send-off, especially considering the persistent rumors that they have political ambitions of their own and that some form of recidivism seems inevitable. Each one is unique and memorable, much in the same way that every individual experience of food poisoning is similarly horrible and yet surprisingly varied in its repulsiveness.

Megan K Stack: The week the Trump supporters disappeared.

Joseph E Stiglitz: Republicans, not Biden, are about to raise your taxes: "President Trump built in tax increases beginning in 2021, for nearly everyone but those at the very top."

Zoe Tillman: Trump left a big legal mess for Biden: "There are numerous lawsuits pending over Trump-era policies Biden doesn't support, along with cases that ensnared the Justice Department with Trump's own legal troubles."

Francis Townsend: Cornered weasel Josh Hawley files ethic counter-suit against seven Democratic senators: I've skipped over at least a half-dozen Hawley pieces, figuring he's not worth the print, but this title managed to catch my fancy. Having broken the ice, more on Hawley:

Craig Unger: The rise and fall of the Trump-Epstein bromance: "The sex trafficker and future president shared tastes for private planes, shady money, and foreign-born models -- many of them "on the younger side."

Anya van Wagtendonk: Trump reportedly considered putting an ally willing to dispute election results in charge of the DOJ. The idea was to replace acting AG Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark. "A rash of DOJ officials, briefed on the plan via conference call on January 3, threatened to resign if that occurred." The New York Times story:

Frank Vyan Walton: Trump fans file suit to block Biden's executive orders and rerun election: No chance, even now, but if the courts were as packed as they want they'd win even cases like this one:

We all know they have no standing, they have no right, they have no evidence and they have not many brain cells rubbing together. But the sheer fucking entitlement is just staggering.

Amy B Wang/Josh Dawsey/Amy Goldstein: Democrats press ahead with second impeachment trial, as GOP is divided on how to defend Trump.

Enter Biden

Biden was inaugurated on Wednesday, and quickly went to work signing several batches of executive orders, signifying a major changes by reversing many Trump orders. His efforts on Covid and foreign policy will appear in those sections. For an overview with links to more articles, Vox has Joe Biden's first 100 days.


Kainaz Amaria/Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden's unique Inauguration Day, in photos.

Katelyn Burns:

Charlotte Klein: What did Biden's day-one executive orders achieve?

Ezra Klein: Democrats, here's how to lose in 2022. And deserve it. "You don't get re-elected for things voters don't know about."

German Lopez: Biden's flurry of first-day executive actions, explained

Dylan Matthews: Will Biden's $15 minimum wage cost jobs? The evidence, explained. The evidence mostly says no, although people who studied Econ 101 but not the world are always tempted to argue otherwise, although rarely without ulterior motives. Still, this argument shouldn't be decisive. Two further points: if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity increases, it would be over $22/hour today, so $15 isn't a real reach; more importantly, the core meaning of minimum wage is the minimal value we put on human dignity (time and work). A minimum wage that doesn't clear the poverty level, at least without other compensation, says we think poverty is fine.

Sara Morrison: How Biden's FCC could fix America's internet. At least, in replacing Trump's FCC chair Ajit Pai, it could restore "net neutrality" -- the rule that says internet providers can't solicit bribes from content producers for better throughput (or punish those who don't pay up with poorer service). I will add one cautionary note: Obama's FCC was largely captive to Silicon Valley business interests, who made big contributions to Obama (and Biden). Although consumers have a clear interest in "net neutrality," so do big businesses like Google and Facebook. Other things that should be done are less likely to find corporate sponsors, which makes it less likely that Biden will champion them.

Nicole Narea:

Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden's impossible mission: "The new president wants to unite a divided America. That's even harder than it sounds." Easy to make fun of Biden here, but an aspiration toward unity is part of the Democratic Party's identity -- a part not shared by the Republicans, which makes it a critical distinction -- because Democrats imagine that their policies will benefit everyone. Hence, both parties aim or claim to help business, the rich, whites, the rural, the religious, veterans, but only Democrats expand that circle to include everyone else. They see unity as both a source and a validation of policies which promote social cohesion and a shared sense of justice, and they recognize that Republicans have clawed their way to power by dividing people, both by promoting individualism and by directing people frustrations at supposed enemies -- the non-white, the poor, the non-religious, the insufficiencly patriotic cosmopolitans, the "deviant," the "free thinkers," the "socialists." Nixon hit on that strategy with his "silent majority," and Republicans have repeatedly doubled down even as their ranks became less silent and less than a majority. (It's worth noting that Nixon learned the politics of division as a world-class red-baiter in the 1940s. When Republicans shriek about "socialists" these days they're summoning up their most primal fears and hatred -- not that racism isn't even deeper-rooted, but racists were among the first to adopt red-baiting as a tactic.) By the way, some of us would even argue that socialist policies would be better for the 1%. True, they wouldn't like not being the 1% any more, but equality would save they from the economic worries that dominate their lives, not least the fear of being ripped off -- not just with guns but more commonly the pen -- because, as Willie Sutton liked to say, that's are where the money is. Related:

Timothy Noah: The end of the 40-year war on government: "Biden's election can be ore than a repudiation of Trumpian misrule. It can reject Ronald Reagan's cynicism, as well."

Anna North: Biden's planned actions on reproductive health care, explained.

Aldous J Pennyfarthing: Harriet Tubman $20 bill fast-tracked by Biden following Trump administration delay: I've never cared much one way or the other about this: not that I'd defend Jackson over Tubman as a human or a worthy political figure, but it is just money. Besides, I always suspected that the choice of Tubman was not just a way of ticking two boxes but a tease, given how obsessed Republicans are with putting their names on things. On the other hand, I saw this Ashley Stevens tweet just before noticing the article, and she may be onto something:

Unpopular opinion: I don't even want Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill. Honestly I think there's some sort of perversion in doing so. A woman who was traded as capital becoming the face of capital doesn't sit right with my spirit.

On the other hand, Steve M has collected some of the racist reaction to the Tubman bill: Likely to be the most defaced bill, thanks to our conservative friends.

Andrew Perez/Julia Rock:

Seth Perlow: What made Amanda Gorman's poem so much better than other inaugural verse.

Lisa Rein/Anne Gearan: Biden is firing some top Trump holdovers, but in some cases, his hands may be tied.

Aaron Rupar: No meltdowns: Jen Psaki's first briefing as Biden press secretary was a breath of fresh air. Three video clips provided, including one Sean Spicer for comparison ("a flashback to the moment when it became clear that the Trump administration was going to be the stuff of dystopian novels").

Emily Stewart: Biden faces a historic unemployment crisis: "The week before Biden took office, 1.4 million Americans filed for unemployment."

Li Zhou: The 50-50 Senate is already running into trouble figuring out its rules. Depending on the VP to break ties isn't quite the same thing as having a majority. On the other hand, McConnell's scheme to keep the filibuster is a recipe for obstruction and inaction. One more thing that should be stressed is that there is no scenario where the filibuster helps Democrats now, or really in the future. If they don't get rid of it, they'll be signaling to the people that they're not really serious about passing legislation. Related:

Covid-19

Latest map and case count: 25.1 million+ cases (14 day change -31%, total up 1.2 million in last week), 419,077 deaths (-4%), 113,609 hospitalized (+5%). As Atlantic's Covid Tracking Project notes, Pandemic numbers are (finally) tiptoeing in the right direction. Still, Wednesday and Thursday were two of the three highest daily death totals ever.

According to New York Times, 18.5 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose (5.6%), of which 3.2 million have received two. Kansas ranks 46th (ahead of Alabama, Nevada, Idaho, and Missouri). Kansas has used the 2nd lowest percentage of vaccines received (43%; only Virginia, with 42%, is lower).


German Lopez:

Donald G McNeil Jr: Fauci on what working for Trump was really like. Also:

Sarah Mervosh: How West Virginia became a US leader in vaccine rollout. They managed to deliver 83% of allotted vaccines, a higher percentage than any other state.

Rachael Rettner: US life expectancy drops dramatically due to COVID-19: "It's the largest drop in life expectancy in at least 40 years."

Aaron Rupar: Fauci threw a lot of shade at Trump in his first comments as a Biden adviser: "What a difference a new president can make."

Dylan Scott: America's Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 400,000.

Alex Ward: Biden will use the Defense Production Act in his anti-coronavirus effort.

The World

Trump's Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, continued to poison the earth under possible Biden diplomatic initiatives. Meanwhile, Biden's Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, tried to reassure Congress that he's as callous and dim-witted as his predecessors (with the possible exception of Pompeo). Goes to show that American foreign policy is still governed by fantasies, where jobs are only doled out to those who attest that "the emperor's new clothes" are magnificent indeed. (On the other hand, note that their critics like to call themselves "realists." See Jordan Henry: Just how good is Joe Biden's foreign policy team?)


Bernard Freamon: Gulf slave society: "The glittering city-states of the Persian Gulf fit the classicist Moses Finley's criteria of genuine slave societies."

Rebecca Gordon: The fall of the American empire: Inside title: "The rubble of empire: doctrines of disaster and dreams of security as the Biden years begin." When I started to compile my blogs from 2001-08, my working title was The last days of the American empire. This could be a foreword to the book I was imagining, with its litany of doctrines, invasions, "grotesque economic inequality," corruption, "ever-deepening conflict." Still, as the years piled on, the slow-motion crash never quite came to its expected end, but also I started to doubt the "empire" concept. Now I'm leaning toward The eclipse of the American Century, not least because the 1900-2000 time frame also defines a unique period of enormous, relentless technological change -- I imagine it as the steep slope of an S-curve, rising quickly around 1900 and starting to plateau around 2000. The US was positioned to take maximum advantage of tech growth, until we started taking riches as entitling us to run the world, and that conceit and hubris spelled the end. But oddly enough, Americans only thought of themselves as an empire at the beginning and end of the 20th century. In between, the operative word was hegemony, the soft glove of power.

Jen Kirby: President Biden's international restoration project has begun: "The US is rejoining the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization on day one."

Andrea Mazzarino: Indirect deaths: "The massive and unseen costs of America's post-9/11 wars at home and abroad."

Lili Pike: The US is back in the international climate game.

Jennifer Scholtes/Connor O'Brien: Adios AUMF? Democrats press Biden for help in revoking old war powers.

Alex Ward/Jen Kirby/Nicole Narea: Biden's key national security picks had their confirmation hearings. Here's what to know. Avril Haynes (CIA), Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security), Tony Blinken (State), Lloyd Austin (Defense). They spouted a fair amount of orthodox bullshit to help expedite confirmation. E.g.:

China, of course, loomed large. Blinken tried to assure lawmakers -- especially Republicans -- that the Biden administration was clear-eyed about the threat China poses. "As we look at China, there is no doubt that it poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state, to the United States, in terms of our interests, the interests of the American people," Blinken said.

Blinken said the US needed to approach China from a position of "strength, not weakness," which Blinken said required the US to work with allies, engage in international institutions, and for standing up for US values, such as condemning Beijing's policies toward the Uighurs and Hong Kong. (Blinken also said he supported the State Department's designation today that China was committing genocide against the Uighurs.)

The bit that got me first was the "strength" fetish, as if all we had to do to bend China to our will was get stronger -- that same approach having failed repeatedly against far less formidable foes. But there's much more to puzzle over, like why we confuse "US values" and "the interests of the American people," when the last four years suggests the US government cares for either. Perhaps in the future US policy (both foreign and domestic) could embrace common principles of human rights and international law, and from that vantage point we could join others in shaming China -- and other malefactors, a list which certainly includes our "allies" in Israel and Saudi Arabia) -- into behaving better. But an essential first step is to behave better ourselves. Blinken offered a slight hint when he talked about ending US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. However, he went on to weasel out of any commitment:

Blinken told lawmakers that he believes the US should continue to defend Saudi Arabia from aggression; however, he said the Biden administration would review the relationship to make sure it aligned with the US's interests and values.

Few things are clearer than that the aggressor in Yemen is Saudi Arabia. Also note that Austin waffled on Afghanistan, holding open the possibility of re-escalating the war. Evidently, that makes him more attractive to the Senate, which went on to confirm him 97-2. More on these picks:

Alex Ward:

  • Biden plans to continue many of Trump's foreign policies -- at least for now: "Biden team members have already signaled they intend to continue several of Trump's policies from Venezuela to Ukraine to Israel and even China." Despite his "America first" demagoguery, Trump never really had a foreign policy, just a torrent of conservatism's usual "irritable mental gestures," combined with a thirst for graft. It's unfortunate that Biden isn't breaking with many of them, but it's mostly Anthony Blinken doing the trash talking here. While his track record suggests he believes this nonsense, it's also reasonable that there is little to be gained by abandoning a stance unilaterally when it might prove useful as a bargaining chip. Where Biden has already moved, it's mostly been in the right direction.

  • Joe Biden ousts the man who tried to reshape US global media: "In his first foreign policy move, Biden fired Michael Pack, the head of the US Agency for Global Media."

  • The last US-Russia nuclear arms deal is about to expire. Biden wants to extend it. Given that Russia has already signaled a desire for a 5-year extension, this one should be easy.

  • Don't expect Biden to reenter the Iran nuclear deal right away. I thought Obama made a mistake in not trying to resolve more issues with Iran, going on to lift sanctions, exchange embassies, and open up trade, but the whole premise of the deal was based on a faulty assumption: that Iran is intractably opposed to US interests, and is dedicated to obtaining nuclear weapons as a way of increasing its leverage over the US and its so-called allies. The deal was the only way to achieve its ends. That Israel and Saudi Arabia continued to object only proved that their intent wasn't to limit Iran but to preserve a hostile relationship they benefited from. Of course, Trump was so completely under their thumb that he probably would have wrecked even a more robust Iran deal. Biden's slowness shows that Israel and Saudi Arabia still have clout, but suggests that he'll try to resolve the conflict with more broadly. Best news here is that Robert Malley seems to be the leading candidate for Iran envoy.

Edward Wong/Chris Buckley: US says China's repression of Uighurs is 'genocide': "The finding by the Trump administration is the strongest denunciation by any government of China's actions and follows a Biden campaign statement with the same declaration." I don't doubt that China's repression of ethnic minorities in Sinkiang (and, for that matter, Tibet) is heavy and oppressive, but doesn't genocide mean killing large numbers of people? And doesn't it also imply an obligation for other countries to intervene? Given that the latter is a practical impossibility, shouldn't one tone down the rhetoric? Alternatively, shouldn't the same criteria be applied elsewhere? I don't think that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to genocide, but it is ethnically based and comparably oppressive. (Main difference is that China has "re-education camps" that attempt to integrate Uighurs into Chinese society, whereas Israel has no such desire -- which is worse is debatable.) Saudi Arabia's war against the Houthis of Yemen is if anything more lethal (latest: Saudi airstrikes kill 34 Houthis in central Yemen, although probably less systematic. There are other cases one might consider, but the US only seems to consider cases where it has an ulterior motive. The designation on Trump's last day was a typical poison pill move, meant to further the ridiculous meme that Biden is soft on China -- if Biden revokes the designation, that will be taken as proof of point; if not (and thus far Biden hasn't taken the bait), it will be taken as proof that Biden is so weak he's unwilling to stand up to genocide, while it hands over diplomatic efforts where cooperation with China is essential. More on China (also see Ward, above):

And Everything Else

Some other entries that didn't fall into the buckets above.


Gilbert Achcar: The Arab Spring, a decade later. [subscriber-only article]

Reed Berkowitz: A game designer's analysis of QAnon.

Chris Bertram: Branching points: Short post, tries to list "events that took place since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) are the important moments when something different could have been done that might have saved us from being in the situation we are in." His list:

  • The decision of the US Supreme Court to award the Presidency to George W. Bush instead of Al Gore (2000)
  • The attacks on the Twin Towers (2001)
  • The decision by Bush, supported by Blair, to invade Iraq (2003)
  • The failure of policy-makers to anticipate and avert the financial crisis (2008)
  • The failure of European leaders to manage the Eurozone crisis so as to avert mass unemployment etc (2009- )
  • The Arab spring (2010- )
  • The "migrant crisis" in Europe (2015- )
  • The Brexit vote (2016)
  • The election of Donald Trump (2016)

Some other suggestions from the comments (sorted by year):

  • 1994: Tony Blair becomes leader of the Labour Party
  • 1990s: Democrats (Clinton wing) sell out: NAFTA, welfare "reform," China and the WTO, Glass-Stegall repeal
  • 1999: Putin elevated to Prime Minister of Russia; 2nd Chechen War
  • 2002: Gujarat, India.
  • 2010: the Citizens United ruling from the US Supreme Court

Fabiola Cineas:

Diana Falzone/Lachlan Cartwright: Fox News launches 'purge' to 'get rid of real journalists,' insiders say: "Fox laid off at least 16 staffers, including Chris Stirewalt, who defended the election-night call that pissed off Trump." Related:

Melissa Gira Grant: The beginning of the end of meaningless work. Checks in with Kathi Weeks, ten years after publication of her book, The Problem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries.

Robert Greene II: Hank Aaron was more than a man who hit home runs: Aaron died last week, at 86. I date my interest in baseball to 1957, not least because I can still recite the All-Star Teams from that year (at least the ones who played: that was the year Cincinnati stuffed the ballot boxes, but the NL overruled the fans, giving OF slots to Aaron and Willie Mays instead of Gus Bell and Wally Post, and the SS-3B spots to Ernie Banks and Eddie Matthews instead of Don Hoak and Roy McMillan). Thanks to my cousin, I was a Yankees fan, perhaps because I was drawn to winners, a trait that also worked in Aaron's favor. Milwaukee had a farm team in Wichita, and went on to win the pennant in 1957 and the World Series in 1958. They had a great team those years, but Aaron was clearly the star, which made him one of my favorite players, and kept me from entertaining any stupid ideas about race. More:

Rebecca Heilweil: Parler begins to come back online with the help of a Russian tech company.

Meryl Kornfield: Six shot dead, including pregnant woman, in 'mass murder,' Indianapolis officials say.

Branko Marcetic: The CIA's secret global war against the left. This focuses on Operation Condor (from the 1970s), although the CIA's "secret global war against the left" dates back to its inception in the late-1940s, with the CIA's efforts in Italy and France to keep Communists from winning elections, and more violently in Greece to defeat leftist partisans who had fought against the Nazi occupation. Everything the CIA did from the '50s through the '80s was justified as anti-Communist -- even the 1954 coup in Iran, which was mostly about undoing Iran's nationalization of British oil interests, was justified as preventing a Communist takeover. Condor was significant as it turned a series of Latin American countries into dictatorships, with several bloody purges (especially in Chile and Argentina), but it was neither the first nor the last time the US has sought to prop up right-wing terror in Latin America, nor was it as bloody as the coup and purge in Indonesia in the 1960s, or the much more protracted war in Vietnam (where the CIA's failure led to the military stepping in, and failing even worse).

Rani Molla: Why right-wing extremists' favorite new platform is so dangerous.

Bill Pearis: Here are your Bernie Sanders music memes.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: New days, old ways: So, it took St Clair less than a week to attack the Biden administration with the same snark he used to critique Trump. But he does have a good story on Hank Aaron.

Scott W Stern: Remembering Margo St James, a pioneering sex worker organizer. She died recently, at 83.

Michael G Vann: The true story of Indonesia's US-backed anti-communist bloodbath: "The massacre of the Indonesian left in 1965-66, backed by Washington, was one of the great cries of the twentieth century." Review of John Roosa: Buried Histories: The Anticomunist Massacres of 1965-1966 in Indonesia.

Anya van Wagtendonk: Legendary broadcaster Larry King has died at age 87. I literally have nothing to say about him, and almost didn't bother with the link. The writer doesn't have much to say either: e.g., "And he was perhaps equally known for his bold sartorial choices -- he was rarely seen without his signature suspenders, often paired with a bright shirt and colorful necktie."