Sunday, December 20, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Rushed through this, reusing last week's TOC and section breakdown, even though it's getting hard to slot the post-election stories. Also, no doubt because the Electoral College vote was way back on Monday, I didn't run across much there. I suppose I should know better, but I'm still surprised that Trump's still jerking us around. He lost by more than 7 million votes, with Biden getting an absolute majority -- a feat that wouldn't even trigger a runoff in Georgia or Louisiana. The scandal is not that he got beat, but that the Electoral College system is so slanted and undemocratic that the vote there was even close to close. And as I note under a piece in the "fraud" section, if anyone has a right to complain about election counts, it's the Democrats, who significantly trailed the best available polling in select swing states and districts.

I should probably note somewhere that Wichita has been rocked by a series of earthquakes in the last couple days, ranging from 2.7 to 3.7. These are centered inside city limits, about 8-9 miles east and very slightly north of where we live. Newspaper says there were similar quakes around 1948, but nothing like them in my lifetime. They also doubt they have anything to do with fracking, but there are oil wells 15-25 miles northeast of there, on up past El Dorado. We have felt many earthquakes from Harper County, KS, and further down in Oklahoma, which are definitively caused by injection wells.

I am in a rush to wrap this up, as I have a Christmas project I need to be getting to.

Trump's Election Fraud, Etc.

On Monday, the Electoral College voted, as expected: Biden's 306 Electoral College votes make his victory official. Trump continues to contest the election, more desperately than ever.

Jonathan Chait: Trump floats coup plan that's so wild even Rudy Giuliani is terrified. "The crazies are turning on the crazier."

DC Report: Why the numbers behind Mitch McConnell's re-election don't add up. If Trump wasn't making such a ridiculous stink about how his election was stolen, we'd be seeing more stories like this one, about the real mystery of the election, which is where all those damn Republican votes came from. McConnell's approval rate in Kentucky is way down at 39%, but he somehow managed to defeat Democrat Amy McGrath by 19-points. Even more suspicious is Susan Collins' win in Maine, after trailing in literally every poll all year long. And why weren't the presidential races much closer in Florida, Ohio, and Iowa? It's possible to imagine some hidden pockets of Trump/Republican support, but the votes in many swing states/districts broke about as far Republican as poll margins of error allowed.

Igory Derysh: Michael Flynn says Trump could seize every voting machine across the country and "rerun" election.

Peter Dreier: The number of Democratic Socialists in the House will soon double. But the movement scored its biggest victories down ballot.

Andrew Prokop: Alternate electors: The latest far-fetched Trump plan to overturn the election, explained.

Aaron Rupar: Ron Johnson turned the Senate into a platform for discredited election conspiracy theories.

Alex Shephard: Republicans will never accept the election results.

Tessa Stuart: What the Democratic Party can learn from Stacey Abrams' success in Georgia.

Anya van Wagtendonk: Trump is reportedly considering making Sidney Powell a special counsel on election fraud.

Biden Prospects

See Building Biden's Cabinet for a survey of who's been selected for Biden's top administration positions, and who's being considered for still open slots. Another updated scorecard is Intelligencer's All of president-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominees.

I've cited a number of articles critical of Biden's cabinet picks -- Jeffrey St Clair is by far the most caustic -- but my own druthers were finally articulated by Walter Shapiro: Give Joe Biden a break: "Sure, some of his Cabinet choices have been puzzling. But what's most important right now is that Biden feels comfortable with the people in his administration." Of course, the left can and should continue to offer advice and recommendations, but I don't see any value in carping. For all his problems, Biden was a lot better than Trump, and Biden's cautious reforms are still much better than what Trump and the Republicans have been doing. Besides, over the long term, the left has better solutions, and many of those will win out eventually, but only once they are embraced by mainstream Democrats, which will only happen when the spectre of Republican power fades.

Kate Aronoff: Biden isn't a lost cause for the left.

Gabriel Debenedetti: A Biden style of government is emerging: Lowest drama possible.

Barry C Lynn: How Biden can transform America: "The country thrived when its leaders broke up monopoly power. The president-elect won't need Congress to do so again." Also see Martin Longman's comment on Lynn's piece, How Biden can have a successful presidency without Congress. More on antitrust:

Alex Pareene: Jen O'Malley Dillon fell into Joe Biden's unity trap. For another take on this same "story":

Aaron Rupar: Biden's post-Electoral College speech was a stinging rebuke of Trump.

Alex Shephard: Sorry, the Hunter Biden story is still not a thing.

Emily Stewart: The debate over Joe Biden cancelling student debt, explained.

Marianne Sullivan/Christopher Sellers: 10 ways Biden should fix the EPA. Biden's appointment of Michael Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, was a start. The 10 ways:

  1. Take quick climate action
  2. Restore the budget and staff
  3. Keep industry out
  4. Make environmental justice a priority
  5. Tackle toxic chemicals
  6. Reinvigorate science
  7. Enforce the law
  8. Upgrade data
  9. Be a stewart of information
  10. Partner with the American public

John Walsh: Can Biden-Harris 'just say no' to the endless war on drugs?

Alex Ward: Progressives, trying to sway Biden, send list with 100 potential foreign policy hires.

Li Zhou: Poll: A majority of voters want Joe Biden to advance policies that promote gender equality.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 17.7 million+ cases (14 day change +13%, total up 1.3 million in last week), 317,120 deaths (+21%), 113,929 hospitalized (+14%). Deaths hit a new high on Wednesday with more than 3,600. "The South is on a worrisome trajectory": Tennessee has the highest per capita rate in the country, while Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina have all set weekly case records.

Remember when Trump said that after the election you'll never hear about Covid again?

American life has been fundamentally reordered because of the virus. Concerts, parades and high school basketball games continue to be called off. Countless people have found themselves jobless and struggling to afford housing. Many schools and colleges have held few or no in-person classes this fall. More than 397,000 cases have been linked to colleges and universities over the course of the pandemic. Thousands more cases have been identified in elementary, middle and high schools.

One class of story I didn't feel like going into is speculation about vaccine distribution. Anything that big is bound to have snafus, deliberate or not. And sure, in a society with as much inequality as America has, it's inevitable that we'll have line-jumpers and people left out. I will note that I saw a tweet from Cam Patterson claiming that over 1,000 people have been vaccinated at UAMS in Little Rock (where he's Dean, and I might add the best possible person for the job). I take that as a good sign.

Yasmeen Abutaleb/Ashley Parker/Josh Dawsey/Philip Rucker: The inside story of how Trump's denial, mismanagement, and magical thinking led to the pandemic's dark winter.

William Booth: Britain tightens lockdowns over virus mutation with 'significantly faster' transmission rates.

Apoorva Mandavilli: The coronavirus is mutating. What does that mean for us?

Lois Parshley: The many strange long-term symptoms of Covid-19, explained.

Brian Resnick: A wild mink in Utah has Covid-19. Veterinarians fear this is just the beginning.

Liz Theoharis: Making sense of mass abandonment amid abundance.

The Economy, Stupid

As I was trying to wrap this up, this story broke: Andrew Taylor: Congress reaches deal on major COVID relief package. As I understand it, the bill combines $900 billion for various relief programs (mostly for small businesses, but also a $300/week unemployment insurance bump -- vs. $600/week under CARES -- combined with a broader federal spending bill, which keeps the government funded through September. I generally skipped articles on negotiations for this bill, other than a couple warning about dire consequences if nothing happened. The bill is still far short of what Pelosi and Shumer were proposing last summer (which the House passed but Mitch McConnell blocked). More on this:

Sasha Abramsky: 2.7 million jobs in the arts have been lost since the pandemic began: "It's past time for the United States to make similar investments to protect the people and institutions who provide us with art, with song, with melody during good times and bad."

John Cassidy: A brazen Republican power play is blocking essential pandemic relief.

Thom Hartmann: Mitch McConnell is holding your community hostage until corporations are able to kill you without consequence. Not the way he's phrase it, but that's about the gist of McConnell's insistence on liability waivers for businesses.

Paul Krugman:

Timothy Noah: Republicans for recession: "How can you tell that the GOP has accepted Biden is the duly elected president? They're trying to destroy the economy."

Anna North: Millions of Americans are about to lose emergency paid leave during the pandemic: "The benefits expire at the end of the year if Congress doesn't act."

Emily Stewart: Whatever Congress does on stimulus, millions of workers are already screwed. "Even if there's another stimulus bill, unemployed workers are likely to see a lapse in benefits."

Still More on Donald Trump

I started this section for articles on the administration (after having broken out the more timely items above) and more generally on the man (and his awful family), but now it's just turning into the garbage bin.

Intelligencer Staff: The all-time funniest photos of President Trump: Funny is not the word that comes to mind here. Embarrassing is closer to the mark, with a bit of pathos thrown in.

Felipe De La Hoz: Trump's most vicious cultists aren't done with America: "They gleefully enabled a corrupt president for years. How will they satisfy their destructive appetites in the years to come?" Cue picture of Stephen Miller.

Susan B Glasser: Trump's new brand is loser.

Nicole Gaudiano: Trump appoints 1776 Commission members in last-minute bid to advance 'patriotic education'.

Jen Kirby: Attorney General Bill Barr contradicted Trump on voter fraud. Now he's resigning. One point is rarely made about Barr: he had a political agenda even before Trump became president, and he remained true to that agenda throughout his tenure. At some point, he realized he could use Trump's vanity to promote his agenda, which led him to write his op-ed on impeachment, which brought him to Trump's attention. He's often characterized as an enabler for Trump's subversion of Justice, but what we've really seen was Barr's own subversion, which he managed with a good deal less brown-nosing than many other Trump supplicants (e.g., Mike Pompeo, who, as I note elsewhere, also had his own private agenda). What Barr's resignation signifies is that he's calculated that from here on out, Trump is more of a liability than an asset. I think it's likely that most people in the Trump administration signed on because they thought they could use the power of the White House to advance their own goals, and they've been willing to suffer numerous indignities along the way. And in the end, most are likely to blame their own failures on Trump. Barr is different only in that he's shrewder, more deliberate, more efficient, and ultimately more dastardly. More on Barr:

Michael Kruse: Is Trump cracking under the weight of losing?

Jonathan V Last: Everyone Trump touches dies: The list.

Eric Lipton: In last rush, Trump grants mining and energy firms access to public lands: "The outgoing administration is pushing through approval of corporate projects over the opposition of environmental groups and tribal communities."

Nicole Narea:

Jonathan Swan: Officials increasingly alarmed about Trump's power grab. A lot of this reads like weird gossip and idle speculation, but Swan cites the New York Times for one of the more bizarre stories:

In and Around the Courts

Ian Millhiser:

Around the World

Gilbert Achcar: The first decade of the Arab revolutionary process.

Anand Gopal: America's war on Syrian civilians: "Bombs killed thousands of civilians in Raqqa, and the city was decimated. US lawyers insist that war crimes weren't committed, but it's time to look honestly at the devastation that accompanies 'targeted' air strikes."

Rebeca Gordon: It's almost twenty years since 9/11: Can we finally stop marching to disaster? Related:.

  • Jacob Silverman: The new language of forever war-making: "The post-9/11 consensus is crumbling, so America's hawks are inventing fresh rhetoric to justify imperialist disasters." Refers to a recent book by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies ("a conservative think tank notorious for lobbying for war against Iran"), with an essay: "Defending Forward: Securing America by Projecting Military Power Abroad." No surprise that they're still hung up with the Vietnam War debacle (the right's version of the German "stab-in-the-back" theory):

    A certain disastrous, interminable American war haunts these writers, but it's not the one you'd think: Panetta and McMaster diagnose their skeptics with Vietnam syndrome, a psychic and societal malady that tends to produce a dim view of American war-making. This "has saddled American strategic thinking for decades," Panetta laments. McMaster attributes it to a "simplistic but widely held belief" that the Vietnam War "had been unjustified and unwinnable."

    If only Vietnam syndrome were a real affliction, it might have saved us from two more protracted, unwinnable wars. Hundreds of thousands of lives would not have been lost. America's true malady is quite the opposite: We don't learn from our imperialistic misadventures. Reading "Defending Forward," one cannot help but fear that 20 years hence, the foreign policy elites of the day -- safely ensconced in think tanks, newspaper op-ed boards, military contractors, Foggy Bottom, and the E-ring of the Pentagon -- will still be making the case for forever war. And they will accuse their critics of suffering from "Afghanistan syndrome."

Conn Hallinan: Space Force: space gravy for contractors and useless for Covid: "Why not deploy diplomats to demilitarize space and save the money for earth-bound problems." Wasn't there a treaty at some point intended to keep space free of weapons systems? If so, there has been a lot of cheating around the edges, or loopholes. The US didn't need a Space Force to launch military systems beyond Earth's atmosphere, although most of the practical uses are in communications, surveillance, and guidance for missiles. As far as I know, China and probably Russia have focused on counter-measures to disrupt US satellite dominance. Needless to say, it's easier and a lot cheaper to wreck some other system than it is to build one that is secure. The big problem with diplomacy is that while it's easy enough to get the "have nots" to agree not to bother (cf. NPT), the "haves" all have political and economic interests promoting further militarization, even when no one has a clear idea what might justify it, or why. However, even simpler than diplomacy would be to just fold its satellite portfolio back into the Air Force and abolish its separate identity. After all, the only thing having a separate Space Force really does is to gin up yet another pointless arms race. Besides, it's not just impractical. It's prima facie ridiculous. Also:

Vijay Prashad: Donald Trump's final act: Snuffing out the promise of democracy in the Middle East.

Philip Weiss: Israel is going to keep on killing Palestinian boys, until US Jews endorse BDS.

Other Matters of Interest

Tahir Amin: We need to take on drug companies' abuse of the patent system. Actually, we really should abolish the whole system. The idea that one person (or worse, company) can file paperwork on an idea and thereby prevent anyone else from thinking up and working on similar ideas is abhorrent to free enterprise, let alone human ingenuity. Worse still is the idea that "owning" an idea entitles one to exact unregulated monopoly rents. The potential for abusing such a system should be obvious, but doesn't depend on thought experiments: we see abuse everywhere we look. Granted, there are ways to "overhaul" the system to make it less onerous: one could reduce patent terms; one could arbitrate reuse rates, and allow others to further develop based on patents; one could eliminate certain classes of patents; one could reject overly broad patent claims; one could deny patents on grounds of obviousness. Still, we'd be better off killing off the whole wretched system.

Siddhartha Deb: The blinding clarity of John Le Carré: "His novels of imperial decline speak to a world that has remained at war since his youth." The famous spy novelist died last week at 89. My wife declared it the "worst day since Reginald Hill died." More on the late novelist:

Peter E Gordon: The scars of democracy: "Theodor Adorno and the crises of liberalism." Review of Adorno's book (a translation of a 1967 lecture), Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism.

Sean Illing: Americans don't think like citizens. They think like shoppers. Interview with political scientist Ethan Porter, author of The Consumer Citizen. Illing makes a key point:

Most "consumer citizens" are very bad at understanding how government interacts with their lives. The costs of government (taxes) are very clear, but the benefits of government (public parks, drivable roads, safe food to eat) are harder for people to connect. That's probably unavoidable in a big, complex society like ours, but it also seems like a recipe for incoherent electoral outcomes. . . .

Part of what I'm getting at here is that to be a citizen you have to care about your country and you have to care about the people who make it up, but in a capitalistic society like ours, market logic shapes our relationship to nearly everything, including and especially people. We're not part of some shared project. We're all competing for money, for power, for status, for whatever advantages we can get.

Tyler Kepner: Baseball rights a wrong by adding negro leagues to official records: "More than 3,400 players from seven leagues that operated from 1920 to 1948 will now be considered major leaguers in a move that will shake up the record books." I've spent hundreds of hours scanning Major League record books, all after the 1969 addition of statistics from four early all-white leagues, and indeed know a lot about the 1880's American Association through its stats. I've read several books on the negro leagues and their stars, but have only seen occasional stats cited -- so one thing this signifies is that researchers have finally gotten a credible set of statistics together. As became immediately clear after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947, the negro leagues were teaming with major-league talent. I started seriously following baseball in 1957, when I was six, and Robinson and Roy Campanella had just retired. A couple years later I recall my cousin and I picking white and black all-star games, and readily conceding that the black teams would win most (despite the white team looking a lot like our cherished major league champs, the New York Yankees). Later I found that Bill Veeck had seriously proposed making that thought experiment real: he owned the Philadelphia Phillies and wanted to field an all-black team. I've long considered integration to be the best thing that ever happened to Major League Baseball. Integrating the record books doesn't remove the tarnish on the Jim Crow era, when white players never officially had to test their talents against black opponents. (By the way, there are many stories of exhibition games, especially in Cuba, where they did, and you can guess how those turned out.) But at least young people, like I was, will get a better picture of the past.

John Koblin/Michael M Grynbaum: CNN and MSNBC fret over post-Trump future. My advice would be to find villains in the Republican Party and hound them mercilessly. That includes the obvious political figures, but also should look at the money people behind the party, the influence and corruption they seek. Sure, that's harder work than just going after Trump, but it dispenses with the easy temptation to try to smear Trump by contrasting him with the occasional Republican who strayed ever so slightly from his grip. People need to understand that the Republican Party is rotten top to bottom. If CNN and MSNBC can't do that, they don't deserve an audience.

Michael Lind: Progressives are a minority in America. To win, they need to compromise. Fair point, but what to compromise on is the rub, especially when the common slam against liberals is that by compromising so readily and by ceding so much ground, they call their own convictions into question.

Carlos Lozada: The great acceleration: "The virus isn't transforming us. It's speeding up the changes already underway." Washington Post book review editor, wrote a book about books about Trump, moves on here to the first speculative votes about the longer-term impact of the pandemic: Nicholas Christakis: Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live; Fareed Zakaria: Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World; John Mickelthwait/Adrian Wooldridge: The Wake-Up Call: Why the Pandemic Has Exposed the Weakness of the West, and How to Fix It.

Ian J Lynch: Why can't the SEC just agree that bribing foreign governments is bad?: "Instead, it's scheduled to gut a rule forcing companies to disclose those bribes."

Andy Lee Roth/Mickey Huff: Corporate fact-checking services shouldn't be our defense against "fake news".

Luke Savage: They said tax cuts for the rich would create jobs. It never happened. Well, they were lying. And they knew they were lying. And most of the rest of us knew they were lying, and many said so at the time. And they did it anyway, knowing they'd be found out, but they didn't care. Related:

Colette Shade: The year we learned to live like life doesn't matter: "How the pandemic put a grotesque new face on the political normalization of brutality."

Jeffrey St Clair: The real resistance begins now: 25 groups that will keep fighting no matter who's president.

Vera Tolz: Short cuts. [article behind paywall, even though we fucking subscribe and I have the hard copy in front of me, but can't see for shit]

Alex Ward: How the US government hack happened, and what it means, explained by an expert: Interview with "cybersecurity expert" Jason Healey. The hack was accomplished by patching spy code into commercial software developed by SolarWinds and used by the various government agencies. More on cybersecurity issues:

  • Thomas P Bossert: I was the Homeland Security adviser to Trump. We're being hacked. Link to this asked even more hysterically "Is the US facing a Cyber Pearl Harbor?" I think the government has become far too cavalier about cyberwarfare, probably because they see it as a net positive, but also because they tend to be indifferent about collateral damage. The only real way to protect against such threats is to negotiate a modus vivendi where no one benefits from cyberattacks. On the other hand, while it seems clear that Russians have enjoyed a peek into US government computer networks, the actual damage is harder to assess, beyond the obvious embarrassment at allowing the breach to happen.

  • Jonathan Chait: Trump won't denounce Russia's hack because he's still subservient to Putin. The inevitable knee-jerk Cold War Liberal reaction. Trump may well be right that "The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control." On the other hand, he may well be confusing old and new Russia hacks, and out of the muddle getting overly defensive. I've never understood the line that Trump, with his wealth and power and ego and vanity, feels subservient to Putin, or anyone else. Sure, he may identify with Putin, because both are oligarchs whose contempt for democracy is cloaked by the trappings of nationalism. But the reason he doesn't fall for the Cold War stereotyping is simple enough: he realizes that both oligarchs have more to fear from their own people than from each other.

  • Fred Kaplan: The government has known about the vulnerabilities that allowed Russia's latest hack for decades -- and chose not to fix them.

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Amidst a massive cyber attack by Russia, Pompeo warns of China threat:

    This demonization of an enemy has become a pattern for Republicans. Ronald Reagan declared that the Soviet Union was an "evil empire" in 1983. As the Cold War ended, a new enemy emerged. Following the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush identified an "axis of evil" -- North Korea, Iran, and Iraq -- in order to justify his "war on terror" and invasion of Iraq. Now we're being told that China is our greatest threat.

    The United States does, indeed, face some serious threats. But they come in the form of a pandemic, climate change, income inequality, gun violence, and a racist criminal justice system. Republicans are in denial about those issues -- and have been for a very long time. Perhaps that's why they are so intent on exaggerating a foreign threat that supersedes everything else.

  • Ellen Nakashima/Josh Dawsey: Trump contradicts Pompeo in bid to downplay massive hack of US government, Russia's role. Of course, it's impossible to believe that either of these guys know what they're talking about. Rather, they both use news to reiterate their preconceived notions. That they are opposed is no problem as long as Pompeo remains publicly submissive, and Trump cares about nothing else. Of course, they take Trump's position as "so much like a paid Russian agent." Just as possible that the hack has done no real damage, because the relationship is less adversarial than suits hawks (like Pompeo) who seek to profit from more fright.

  • Raphael Satter/Christopher Bing/Joseph Menn: Hackers used SolarWinds' dominance against it in sprawling spy campaign.

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