An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, November 1, 2020
Table of contents:
I opened the Wichita Eagle this morning to see an alarming op-ed, titled "This presidential election is a battle between good and evil." I didn't instantly disagree, but figured I needed to look at the fine print to see whether it favored good or evil, and turns out it sided with evil. The author was Brian McNicoll, a writer for the Heritage Foundation. This kind of demonization never does anyone any good -- even when opposing Donald Trump, who is guilty of so many offenses against humanity one can excuse the shorthand. The thing is, it's always possible to construct a valid critique of Trump on issues, without ever getting into ethical or psychological matters (which are pretty offensive, too). McNicoll's screed is evenly divided between lies he thinks favor Trump and lies he thinks damn Biden. One could go through these point-by-point, but the deeper problem is the absolutist Manichaean worldview. One may disagree over corporate tax rates, but you're only deluding yourself when you claim that some levels are good and others evil. Worse, you're vowing to kill your opponents, and inviting them to kill you, just so you can feel righteous.
The weird thing is that while Trump is right to worry about losing, his followers aren't really risking much. Most popular Democratic reforms will actually help all but the very richest Americans, and if the track record of Biden's wing of the party holds up, the rich will also do better. Guns seem to be a concern, but the only things Democrats are seriously pushing there are background checks and/or some kind of limit on weapons of mass destruction. Most gun owners will barely be inconvenienced. Lately I've known several people describe abortion as "evil" in tones liberals almost never apply to guns. Clearly, they want to strip hard-earned rights away from women, and be able to dictate a large chunk of their lives. What makes them think they should even have that right baffles me, but it's become a litmus test for the whole conservative movement.
I had a second screed I wanted to write a bit about, but don't have time. It starts:
I picked this up from a Facebook "friend" (actually, a relative), and ascribe much of it to the heat of the moment, but I feel personally threatened by this vitriol. Again, nearly all of the charges are lies, wrapped up with the credulous anger of someone who feels he is being victimized by the unseen but much imagined forces of the left.
I think it should be clear by now that I don't hate Trump supporters. Indeed, I know a fair number of them, and love some very much. I simply think they are mistaken, sometimes even delusional, and I believe that their mistakes and delusions can hurt people (including themselves). As for Trump himself, I think that someone who started out with all of his advantages, who ultimately accumulated so much power, should be held responsible for his actions.
Here's one of my rare political tweets:
One last note: Robert Fisk, veteran British foreign correspondent, dies aged 74. Fisk wrote a very important book on the 1975-90 Lebanese Civil War, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. He covered the Middle East for many years, writing in The Independent, and has several more notable essay collections. His work immensely helped many of us to anticipate the disasters that unfolded with GW Bush's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the later interventions in Libya and Syria.
If you care about the community you live in, the nation, and/or the world, Vote for Biden-Harris. There is no other sane choice, and it's silly to pretend otherwise. If you're in Kansas, vote for Barbara Bollier for Senate, because her brand of Republicanism is far less obnoxious than Roger Marshall's, and she'll vote to organize the Senate in a way where Democrats actually have a chance of doing something good (or less awful). If you're in or near Wichita, vote for Laura Lombard over Ron Estes. If you're in our neighborhood, vote for Mary Ware and John Carmichael for the state legislature. And especially vote for James Thompson for the judge slot he started a late campaign for. If in doubt, vote for whoever's running as a Democrat. Not all Republicans are corrupt, sociopathic miscreants, but a lot of them are, and they're running on a ticket headed by one.
Electing Democrats won't solve our problems. They will be as sympathetic to lobbyists as Republicans are, but they'll understand better the need to protect their voters' interests as well, to find some balance which is the soul of moderation.
I didn't look for endorsement links this week (although I found one in an open tab). You can see some last week. I also wrote something about this in last week's Music Week.
The Economist: Why it has to be Biden.
Campaigns and Elections
Election day is Tuesday. Actually, most Americans have already voted -- 92 million, according to an article below -- so the real import of the day is that's when we start moving from polling to actual vote counts. As noted below, the polls favor Biden-Harris, not only to get more votes than Trump-Pence but to get enough more to overcome the systemic bias built into the electoral college (which in 2016 allowed Trump to win while receiving 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton). I tend to avoid spending a lot of time on polling, but this time I've picked out a number of links that explain how polling works, how it tends to go wrong, and what the risks are. The big open question this time is whether Republican efforts to suppress the vote and/or to reject votes through lawsuits slant the returns significantly. There is, also, a chance that someone might be able to hack the actual returns -- a far more serious problem than Russian efforts to spread misinformation in 2016. (After all, Republicans were doing a huge amount of that anyway.)
I think it's possible to say that any major discrepancies will be discovered and corrected if given time and attention. Most likely, a major thrust of Republican post-election torts will be (as Trump has already abundantly advertised) directed to shutting the process down as early as possible. While a truly close election could take a week or two to sort out, a Biden landslide could be clear within a day or two. At this point, a Trump landslide seems inconceivable, and would certainly be very suspicious.
Kate Aronoff: Are you fracking kidding me, Trump? "The president's latest electoral Hail Mary: He's considering ordering federal agencies to produce a report on fracking that will emerge months after the election and which no one will read." I can't help but find this amusing. After eight years of "oil man" Bush driving gasoline prices through the roof (only to see them collapse in his Great Recession), it was the Obama-Biden administration that promoted fracking, leading to a surge in oil production, achieving the "holy grail" of American energy independence that had been part of Republican platforms since Reagan but had always proved elusive. In a saner world, Biden would have to acknowledge fracking as a blemish on his record, but with Trump embracing it so wholeheartedly, he's let his opponent off the hook.
Alexander Burns: Trump's closing argument on virus clashes with science, and voters' lives: "The president has continued to downplay the severity of the coronavirus and declare before largely maskless crowds that it is vanishing. The surge in new cases across the country says: Not so."
Sean Collins: Black voter turnout was down in 2016. This time looks to be different.
Chas Danner: Trump reportedly plans to declare premature victory: Live election updates. This file gets updated regularly, so the title and lead piece may change, but the section title is a bit more provisional: "Trump reportedly plans to declare victory on if he's ahead on Election Night." As I've noted below, there isn't a very big window for claiming victory prematurely, unless he actually is winning. The article notes, "For this to happen, his allies expect he would need to either win or have commanding leads in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, and Georgia." The fact is, he could win all of those states and still lose the election: Pennsylvania is the median state, and every state listed is on the list of states Trump is more likely to carry than Pennsylvania (current polls show him losing FL, NC, AZ, and GA, and barely ahead in IA, TX, and OH). That this story has any credibility at all is because we're so used to Trump claiming ridiculous bullshit, and certain segments of the media echoing him in awestruck wonder. [PS: Possibly in response to the Axios report this is based on: Trump denies he'll declare victory on election night, but threatens that his lawyers are ready to challenge results.]
Susan B Glasser: Denialism, dishonesty, deflection: The final days of the Trump campaign have it all. "The President is ending his reťlection bid with scandals that call into question the legitimacy of next week's vote." I have a certain amount of respect for Trump's insistence that he still has a chance despite the polls, but he's going about it all wrong, and that exposes his bad faith, and considerably worse. If he could win, you'd expect him to do everything possible to convince even his opponents that the results are fair and true. But by harping on how rigged the election is, he's not only leading his followers to think that his loss would be illegitimate, he's planting the seed in his opponents' minds that he himself could only win by crooked means. He is, in short, making America's near future ungovernable for either party. He may not realize this, but win or lose he's already managed to spoil the election, to delegitimize American democracy. I don't know whether he's proud of this, or just that fucking stupid. Emphasis added below:
James Hamblin: Trump has gone from downplaying the pandemic to outright Covid denial.
Ben Jacobs: Where the Trump revolution started and ended: "Republicans thought they had realigned the coutry four years ago. Iowa isn't going along."
Dan Kaufman: Will Trump's broken promises to working-class voters cost him the election?
Jen Kirby/Rani Molla: 9 questions about 2020's record-breaking early vote, answered. "More than 84 million Americans have voted so far in 2020."
Charlotte Klein: Trump rallies leave trail of COVID spikes in their wake. Dubbing them his "superspreader tour" is no joke. For more details: Trump rallies may be responsible for an estimated 700 Covid-19 deaths.
Ezra Klein: Nate Silver on why 2020 isn't 2016. Interview with the 538 founder and guru. Pieces by Silver and 538:
Jill Lepore: The trouble with election projections. By an historian, so she mentions premature claims like Charles Evans Hughes in 1916, but somehow missed Thomas Dewey in 1948.
Robert Mackey: Trump's pathetic attempt to get Netanyahu to attack Biden falls flat. Well, aside from getting Netanyahu's richest American donor to cough up even more money.
Dylan Matthews/Kay Steiger: How the press calls elections, explained.
Tom McCarthy: 'Red mirage': The 'insidious' scenario if Trump declares an early victory. There are various "mirage" scenarios, both "red" and "blue," but they're all pretty tenuous. The fear is that if there is any point in the evening when Trump appears to be ahead, he will claim victory and his followers will believe him. But no one else will, until we see clear data that lines up with or exceeds expectations (for Biden) or that consistently overturns them (or Trump).
Dana Milbank: Trump just made Biden's closing argument against him.
David R Montgomery/Maggie Haberman: Vehicles flying Trump flags try to force a Biden-Harris campaign bus off a highway in Texas. Sumner Concepcion later wrote about this story:
By the way, David Frum's interpretation of this Trump tweet was: "President Trump endorses attempted vehicular homicide." Also: After Trump supporters surround a Biden bus in Texas, the FBI opens an investigation.
David Nakamura/Paul Sonne: Trailing in the polls, Trump enlists his administration and co-opts the government to bolster his reelection.
Nicole Narea: More people have already voted in Texas than did in 2016 overall: "Texas has historically had among the lowest levels of voter turnout nationwide." Chart shows four more states where early votes as a share of 2016 totals is over 80%: Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona. Chart is limited to "swing states," where Pennsylvania is low at 34.3%, Minnesota 40.0%, Ohio 46.3%, Michigan 50.3%, Wisconsin 58.4%.
New York Times Editorial Board: Why are Republicans so afraid of voters? "There is no 'both sides do it' when it comes to intentionally keeping Ameicans away from the polls."
Tina Nguyen: Election day becomes doomsday scenario for militia groups.
Trump's latest defense on Covid-19 is a false attack on health care workers: "Trump says doctors are overcounting Covid-19 deaths. In reality, the death toll is probably an undercount."
David Siders/Zach Montellaro: Trump confronts his 50 percent problem: "The president's inability to capture a majority of support sheds light on his extraordinary efforts to suppress the vote."
Jamil Smith: How Donald Trump talks about black people.
Peter Stone: Billionaire casino boss Sheldon Adelson splashes the cash in bid to help Trump: "The magnate, 87, is expected to have spent $250m this election cycle to support conservative causes, fundraisers say."
The Covid Tracking Project: The pandemic is in uncharted territory: "The fall surge is rewriting the coronavirus record books across America. And the numbers are still climbing."
Timothy Bella: Donald Trump Jr. said Covid-19 deaths are at 'almost nothing.' The virus killed more than 1,000 Americans the same day. Also on DJTJ:
Vincent Bevins: How the pandemic dealt a blow to Europe's far right: "Covid-19 led to setbacks for many far-right parties across Europe as issues like immigration receded and voters sought out competent leadership."
Josh Dawsey/Yasmeen Abutaleb: 'A whole lot of hurt': Fauci warns of covid-19 surge, offers blunt assessment of Trump's response.
Stephen Duckett/Tom Crowley: Finally at zero new cases, Victoria, Australia, is on top of the world after unprecedented lockdown effort.
Charlotte Klein: Second coronavirus wave propels European countries into lockdown 2.0.
German Lopez: Why North and South Dakota are suffering the worst Covid-19 epidemics in the US. Subheds: The Dakotas resisted basic policies to fight Covid-19; The public, fueled by Trump, didn't follow proper precautions; North and South Dakota now have a serious and growing crisis."
Cameron Peters: As Trump downplays Covid-19, the US sets a world record for cases.
Still More on Donald Trump
David Atkins: Trump plans a series of Saturday night massacres if he wins. Names reportedly on the chopping block: Mark Esper, Gina Haspel, Christopher Wray. I don't care for any of them, but it is true that Trump's minions have become notably more servile and sycophantic since his first batch, and that's made them more willing to engage in dubious activities (e.g., William Barr, Mike Pompeo). A second term will be a giant boost to his ego.
Peter Baker: Dishonesty has defined the Trump presidency. The consequences could be lasting. "Whether President Trump wins or loses on Nov. 3, the very concept of public trust in an established set of facts necessary for the operation of a democratic society has been eroded." Bad, but if he wins, the consequences will be so much worse. When he tested positive for Covid, some pundits wondered whether his illness might make him a bit more humble and respectful of reality, but when he recovered, he only became more arrogant and more deranged. Winning this election will only reinforce his belief that dishonesty pays dividends, and Republicans will continue to follow him anywhere. If he loses, that will be a start toward reasserting that truth and trustworthiness matter. Sure, just a start, but a necessary one.
Elizabeth Dwoskin/Craig Timberg: The unseen machine pushing Trump's social media megaphone into overdive: "Researchers say the online feedback loop between Trump, high-profile influencers and rank-and-file followers is more dangerous than Russian misinformation."
Juliet Eilperin: Trump to strip protections from Tongass National Forest, one of the biggest intact temperate rainforests.
Garrett M Graff: 'There are no boundaries': Experts imagine Trump's post-presidential life if he loses. My own fearless prediction: whatever he does will be disgusting, and he'll only do as much of it as he can get other people (including the taxpayer) to pay for.
Karen J Greenberg: Donald Trump's failed state.
Michael Kruse: The swamp that birth Trump: "Trump's first chronicler revealed how New York's corrupt political culture imparted to the young developer the skills he brought to Washington."
Eric Lipton/Benjamin Weiser: Turkish bank case showed Erdogan's influence with Trump.
Martin Longman: Pompeo and the Trump crusade to politicize the federal workforce.
Jane Mayer: Why Trump can't afford to lose: "The President has survived one impeachment, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits. That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally, if Joe Biden wins."
Timothy Noah: How the stock market betrayed Donald Trump: "The president foolishly rested his reelection hopes on economic indices that are even more irrational than he is."
Andrew Prokop: The unmasking of Anonymous, explained. Turns out the guy who wrote the famous New York Times op-ed, and followed it up with a book, A Warning, was Miles Taylor. Who? Who cares? More on Anonymous:
David Rohde: How America escapes its conspiracy-theory crisis.
Joe Wertz: Trump's pullback of pollution controls is even more hazardous than you think.
Supreme Court and Other Injustices
The week started with Amy Coney Barrett has officially been confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, giving the Federalist Society a 6-3 majority.
Angelina Chapin: Louisville cop sues Breonna Taylor's boyfriend for 'emotional distress'.
Garrett Epps: Independent judiciary, RIP.
Sean Illing: The case for stripping the Supreme Court of its power: "A Harvard law professor on whether it's time to rethink the nation's highest court." Old 2018 interview with Mark Tushnet, who at the time was already worried by Brett Kavanaugh's appointment.
Marin K Levy: Republicans have already packed state supreme courts.
Around the World
Jariel Arvin: A 7.0 earthquake struck near Greece and Turkey, killing at least 14 and injuring hundreds.
Regine Cabato/Jason Samenow: Typhoon Goni smashes into the Philippines, heads toward capital. Peak winds hit 195 mph ("as strong as any landfalling storm on record"). Also: "The typhoon threatens the country just days after Typhooon Molave struck, killing at least 22 people, mostly south of Manila, according to Reuters. Goni is following a similar path."
Will Moreland: To compete with China and Russia, America needs a new era of multilateralism. Agree on multilateralism, but rather than repeating the Cold War folly of trying to organize the world against Russia and China, we need to find ways to cooperate with them. Moreland insists Russia and China are "a contest that cannot be wished away," and he focuses on the need to counter authoritarianism abroad. The obvious first step there is to counter it at home. But we should recognize that American support for dictators didn't start with Trump. It started in the 1940s with American strategists who felt we picked the wrong enemy and should have been fighting the Soviet Union instead of Nazi Germany. After WWII ended, they started recruiting former Nazis as assets for the global struggle against Communism. The Cold War is littered with high-sounding liberal rhetoric mixed with tactical support for dictators -- anything to ensure access for American capital and to keep left-leaning unions and parties out of power -- the net result merely proving America as the most hypocritical of nations. One can imagine a genuinely liberal foreign policy, one that promoted not just the usual democratic freedoms but let people everywhere assume more power over their lives, through governments more responsive to their needs. Still, neither the "realist" nor the "neocon" schools of foreign policy mandarinism support anything like that, even if they're willing to selectively spout the words to further their conflicts with their supposed enemies.
Alex Ward: Japan's new prime minister has just one year to save the country from crisis.
David Atkins: The GOP conspiracy mentality will only become more dangerous when they lose power.
Zack Beauchamp: How an Israeli thinker became one of Trumpism's foremost theorists: Yoram Hazony, president of the Herzl Institute think tank, author of a 2018 book called The Virtue of Nationalism. Michael Anton is a fan, and he probably ranks as the preŽminent Trumpist intellectual around these days. Back in 2016, Anton wrote a pro-Trump essay called "The Flight 93 Election" in 2016, as if electing a Democrat would be so horrific that a suicide rush was preferable, and has a recent, even more hysterical screed: The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return. What makes Israeli settlers models for the American far right is their example as an elite which takes what it wants and holds it by force, with no bother pretending anyone else benefits, or even matters. In many ways they are recapitulating America's own settlement of the frontier, something which appeals to nostalgic gun-toting MAGA cowboys.
Fabiola Cineas: The Philadelphia police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., explained: "Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man, was fatally shot in front of his mother while reportedly experiencing a mental health crisis."
Eleanor Cummins: Is this the end of American optimism? "Facing a seemingly endless pandemic and an election that has little hope of going smoothly, we're all on a grim, existential roller coaster now." Well, if Trump wins on Tuesday, that will wipe out what little's left of my optimism. One thing I thought I knew from close observation of American politics since 1960 is that while things have never worked out the way I hoped or wanted, somehow those in power managed to slog through without breaking everything -- even such disastrous wounds as the Vietnam War scabbed over, not that they learned the right (or any) lessons from their folly. Much of this resilience derives from business and other non-government organizations, and from civil relations, from everyday humanity. One can't help but wonder what kind of beating we're taking from the fear and isolation the pandemic is forcing on us. Trump's big pitch in the last days of the campaign is one of defiance, demanding that we not let the pandemic ruin our lives, that we go back to our pre-pandemic norms regardless of the costs in lives. I suspect that is a winning argument, and it is what will happen over the next year, even if we're smart enough to vote him out. Optimism always rebounds, even when it embraces irrationality. But better not to be so myopic and stupid about it.
Shirin Ghaffary: 5 fact-checks from the Senate's hearing on social media. More on the Senate hearings:
Richard Hanania: Americans hate each other. But we aren't headed for civil war.
Carol Lay: How to be an effective left-wing internet troll: Seems like something I might like to try, so I dug in and did my due dilligence. Eventually I concluded I couldn't hack it. Suggestion that wiped me out: "Skip the really long thoughtful posts. No one else reads them, either." Don't I know it.
John Patrick Leary: Who gets included in "the American people"? "The enduring struggle over who is deserving of political representation."
Nicholas Lemann: Losing Ground: "The crisis of the two-party system." Reviews three books: Robert B Reich: The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It; Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality; and Robert P Saldin/Steven M Teles: Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites. I've read, and can heartily recommend, Let Them Eat Tweets, along with most of the authors' previous books -- especially The Great Risk Shift (2007) is important for its little appreciated topic (few people realize they are carrying extra risk until it's too late), and American Amnesia (2016). I haven't read the others, and doubt I ever will.
JC Pan: Pandemic fatigue is just exhaustion in the face of a failed state: "Americans are increasingly frustrated by the obligation to ride out a global disaster on their own. They have every reason to be." The genius of Republican administration is that they're so bad (and so corrupt) at it that you give up on the very idea that government was intended to "promote the general welfare." Fatigue was bound to happen just as a function of time, but the level of failure one is willing to accept is a matter of political calculation.
Lili Pike: Why the record low Arctic sea ice this October is so alarming.
Peter Sterne: Inside Glenn Greenwald's blowup with the Intercept. As I recall, Greenwald started out as a fairly apolitical lawyer with libertarian tendencies, who became radicalized as Bush's Global War on Terror impinged on civil liberties. I read his first book, and it was pretty innocuous: How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values From a President Run Amok? He moved from there into blogging -- With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful seemed like a sharper title -- and even did some credible journalism (e.g., on Edward Snowden, and on Brazil after he moved there). He helped found the Intercept, but seems to have been increasingly peripheral lately, so the break appears to be a mix of ego and politics -- as a libertarian, he seems to want to attack Biden as much as Trump, which I'd say is premature (what good, right now, does it do to attack Biden for positions he shares with Trump?). I haven't cited him a lot lately, but I've occasionally found him useful (7 articles this year). Also on Greenwald:
Emily Stewart: Rashida Tlaib and AOC have a proposal for a fairer, greener financial system -- public banking.
Paul Sullivan: For owners looking to sell, an option that keeps their company intact: "A sale to employees keeps the company local, and that may be more important to some owners than getting the highest price." Always happy to see a story where employees take ownership of a business. From my own experience I've seen how even modest stock options help to align employee and management interests. We need better laws to facilitate this sort of transfer. Several people have floated "codetermination" -- the practice in Germany of giving employees seats on corporate boards, which is a big part of the reason Germany continues to run positive exports on manufactured goods, despite some of the world's highest wages. I'd like to see bankruptcy law changed so that companies that have been bankrupted by vulture capitalists can be reconstituted as employee-run, even where creditors lose out. I also support unions, but employee-run businesses are a better solution.
Jonathan Watts: 'Sleeping giant' Arctic methane deposits starting to release, scientists find.
Gene Weingarten: In search of healing: "America is facing one of the deepest divides in our history -- and, no matter who wins the election, a difficult path forward." Not the point of the article, but his critique of Trump is spot on. And while he tries to soften his chagrin with Trump's fan base, it's hard to escape the notion that they're somehow lacking: in knowledge for sure, understanding, perhaps even character.
Adam Weinstein: The great GOP dystopian experiment is working exactly as planned in Florida: "Republicans have run the place into the ground. Yet voters keep electing them to state and national office. Why?"
Matthew Yglesias: 2 models for regulating social media giants, explained: "We could treat them like phone companies or like TV networks, but not both." My own preference is a third path, which is to publicly fund free services, using open-source software, that would compete with the Internet giants but not do the evil things, like spying and selling user data, that Google, Facebook, etc. do. My guess is that if such organizations appear, users will flock to them, and we'll all be better off.
Zeta knocks out power to 2 million: Louisiana was hit by a category 2 hurricane last week, which then cut across the southeast into the Carolinas with high winds and heavy rain before heading East into the Atlantic. A series of reports. One thing I'll add is that Zeta is not the end of the Greek alphabet, although it's further down the list than we've ever gotten before.