Weekend Roundup [10 - 19]

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Not really a proper introduction, but I want to reiterate one point made below. It occurs to me that a lot of the anomalies of the election make sense as artifacts of the exceptionally high turnout. As I recall, back in 2010 it seemed like most of the Democratic vote drop could be traced to low voter turnout compared to 2008. The lesson there seemed to be that Democrats do better when more people vote, and that made a certain amount of sense because non-voters tend to be younger and less stable economically -- i.e., people who would vote Democratic if they had reason to bother. That ignored the fact that 2010 voter turnout was about the same as in 2006, when Democrats swept both houses of Congress. Obviously, different people chose not to vote in those elections -- mostly ones who lost faith in their party's handling of power. But the high turnout in 2020 suggests a different dynamic. As participation increases, the main thing that increases is the share of uninformed or misinformed voters, and they tend to be all over the map, voting R or D based on half-baked notions about what parties mean and do. And let us not forget the other major facts of 2020: the natural rhythm of campaigning was disrupted by the pandemic, which seems especially to have hurt Democrats (due to their greater wariness of the virus); incredible sums of money was spent, mostly on misleading television advertisements (where the Republicans were total frauds, and Democrats struggled to present a coherent message that matters to most people); the media continued to cover Trump as an eccentric celebrity, while ignoring most of the real things done by his administration and party. I think it's likely that the main reason the polls were off was that their qualifications for "likely voters" were off. A lot of unlikely voters wound up voting, and more of them than one might rationally expect ignorantly pulled the lever for Republicans. I say "ignorantly" because if you ask them why, it's extremely unlikely they'll offer an explanation that could pass even a rudimentary fact check. I think the signature here is to be found in Trump's much-touted improved share of Black and Latin votes. Clearly, he did nothing to earn those votes honestly, so the fact that he got them suggests confusion.

In other news, the big stories are tragedy and farce: the Covid-19 surge, and Trump's continuing charade to deny his election loss. Needless to say, the farce only adds to the tragedy. I can only hope that other Americans are as thoroughly disgusted with Trump as I am.

I'd like to get rid of the Table of Contents breakdown, but there's even more of it this week. Also a bit arbitrary to sort the post-election pieces out, so many wound up slotted under Biden or Trump. We're starting to see some pieces on what the Biden administration will (or could) look like. I haven't linked to many -- at this point it's mostly speculation and/or plotting -- as I'm not privy to any inside info, and I'm not likely to be consulted or referred to. I will say the following:

  • There are some Democrats it would be bad form to bring back. I don't have a long list, although it would probably grow if I gave it some thought, but for starters: Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emmanuel, Joe Lieberman, Lawrence Summers, Ash Carter, Madeleine Albright.
  • I'm against nominating any sitting US Senators. The Senate is too important right now. There's been discussion of Sanders and Warren, but both represent states with Republican governors, so could be net losses. At any rate, we need those two as independent voices for progress -- not as administration cronies. (I'd be OK with stealing a Republican Senate seat, although I don't know how you go about doing that. Ron Johnson?)
  • The left doesn't need representation in the Cabinet. All the left needs is an open door and a fair hearing. I also don't care about quotas or such. Clinton claimed to have a "cabinet that looks like America." By looks sure, but for the clothes and the bankrolls and the Ivy League degrees.
  • Biden's security people will inevitably draw on the same Washington think tanks that have owned American foreign policy for the last 60 years, so expect to be disappointed there, but don't assume they'll continue making the mistakes they've made repeatedly over the last 20-30 years (personally, in many cases). Conditions change, limits appear, and war weariness has set in like never before. They say "personnel is policy," but focus on the policy. (Of course, if Biden nominates a Kagan or Bill Kristol, by all means go apeshit.)

Parting advice: let Biden be the centrist he wants to be, but challenge him on issues, and bring forth real and substantive plans. Biden is more or less the center of the party. Move him and you move the party.

PS: I was going to link to several articles from The American Prospect (e.g., Robert Kuttner, David Dayen), but balked when they refused to show me a second without registering. Probably harmless to do so, but my skepticism is what keeps the Internet safe for me. But this also rubs a bugbear of mine. The only way to get better informed voters is to make information free. I'm not unsympathetic to the notion that progressives need to make a living, and I certainly know that writing is work, but I get tired of getting hit up for money all the time, especially when I'm trying to do the world a favor.

Election Aftermath

James Arkin: Health care vs. 'radical leftists': Parties re-running 2020 playbooks in Georgia runoffs. Also on Georgia:

David Atkins: Biden won big, but his approach may have cost Democrats downballot. I think it did, at least to the point that Biden didn't stress the message that he needs a Democratic Congress to deliver on his issues. Given his opponent, Biden was able to hold back, spouting nebulous notions (like "soul of the nation") instead of campaigning on issues, which Democrats had in spades thanks less to the fickleness of Trump than to the sociopathy of Republicans. It was, after all, Democrats who led on the CARES Act that got the country through the lockdown. It's Democrats who want a livable minimum wage, and who want every American to have health care. Those are winning issues, but only if you run on them.

Katelyn Burns: Biden plans on swiftly rolling back some Trump policies with executive orders.

Jonathan Chait: Trump's election challenges keep getting laughed out of court.

Nancy LeTourneau: Reefer madness: On the curious effect of the Marijuana Now Party candidates in Minnesota congressional races, which seem to have helped Republicans (and in at least one case were recruited by Republicans).

Eric Levitz: David Shor's postmortem of the 2020 election. Interview with the Democratic pollster. Also refers to his "other interview," with Dylan Matthews: One pollster's explanation for why the polls got it wrong. Shor argues that Trump voters aren't "shy" so much as they are cynical and distrust pollsters, which makes them reluctant to answer prying phone calls. Conversely, anti-Trump voters were more interested in voicing their displeasure with Trump, partly because they are more invested in democratic processes. This suggests a systemic bias in polling that's going to be hard to factor out.

German Lopez: America's war on drugs has failed. Oregon is showing a way out. For more:

Madeline Marshall: Weed was the real winner of the 2020 election: "Americans are turning against the war on drugs."

Matt Naham: Lawyers litigating for Trump suddenly remember their licenses are on the line if they lie to a judge.

Ella Nilsen: House Democrats will keep their majority for two more years.

Andrew Prokop:

Aaron Rupar: The 2000 election doesn't justify Trump's refusal to concede to Biden. Here's why.

Alex Shephard: The media finally figured out Trump. Now do the GOP.

David Siders: 'A grand scheme': Trump's election defiance consumers GOP.

Nate Silver: The polls weren't great. But that's pretty normal. Also at FiveThirtyEight:

Jacob Silverman: Postelection misinformation and massacre threats on conservatives' favorite new social media app: "Ted Cruz and Dinesh D'Souza have huge followings on Parler, a right-wing Twitter clone that has exploded in popularity since the election."

Over the weekend, Parler became the most downloaded app in the country, a position it was still holding as of Tuesday morning. It's also the app in which Lang Holland, the police chief of Marshall, Arkansas, on Friday called for his fellow users to join him in traveling to Washington, D.C., to "fight our way into the Congress and arrest every Democrat who has participated in this coup? We may have to shoot and kill many of the Communist B.L.M. and ANTIFA Democrat foot soldiers to accomplish this!!!" Holland added, "Death to all Marxist Democrats. Take no prisoners leave no survivors!!" He has since resigned.

Founded in 2018 and surging since this summer, when it at one point gained a million users in a week, Parler has been adopted by practically every media personality and politician of note on the right, including some you might have forgotten. (Milo Yiannopoulos, banned from Twitter and polite society for his pedophilia apologetics, uses Parler to promote his paid video appearances on the service Cameo.) Some of them are racking up huge follower counts: 1.8 million for Bongino, 2.9 million for Ted Cruz, 1.3 million for Dinesh D'Souza. Posting many times per day (often by simply syndicating their tweets), they attract thousands of "echos," the site's equivalent of a retweet, "upvotes," and comments.

Matt Stieb: Incoming GOP senator apparently doesn't know basics of World War II. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) missed the fact that the US fought against Nazi Germany in WWII.

Benjamin Wittes: How hard is it to overturn an American election?

So yes, the president is allowed to sulk. He is allowed to be the sorest of sore losers. He is allowed to once again display before the entire world the complete triumph of ego over patriotism, of self-interestedness over public-spiritedness, within his heart. There is, actually, nothing to do about it if he wants to play it this way; there is no way to stop him. And in and of itself, it's not even a particularly grave problem. It is certainly sad that the United States has a president who so completely fails the basic tests of honor and decency. It would be lovely to see him just once rise to some occasion, any occasion. But it's hardly a surprise that he can't or he won't or he doesn't want to. He is, after all, Donald Trump.

Matthew Yglesias: The problem with exit poll takes, explained.

Li Zhou/Ella Nilsen: How North Carolina and Maine dashed Senate Democrats' hopes of a "blue wave". The loss to Susan Collins shows that Democrats still aren't ready to put partisan interests above personal quirks. North Carolina shows that Republicans do just that. The asymmetry has repeated killed independent Democratic candidates, especially in Senate races. Which makes it all the harder to prevail in the Senate, given the built-in anti-Democratic bias.

Biden Prospects

Sam Adler-Bell: The brewing Democratic fight over Biden's cabinet.

Albena Azmanova/Marshall Auerback: 2020 was the 'precarity election'. I know quite a few words, but had to look up "precarity": "the state of being precarious or uncertain"; also more specifically: "a state of persistent insecurity with regard to employment or income." Subhed: "Democrats' failure to address the issue of economic precarity undermines their claim to be the party of the working class." We need to find a better way to express that idea.

Andrew Bacevich: After Trump, throw out the old foreign policy establishment, too.

Allison Crimmins: Why the Biden administration should establish a Department of Climate.

Melissa Gira Grant/Nick Martin/Katie McDonough/JC Pan: The election is over. Here's a vision from the left for the next four years. A collection of pieces from activists, mostly good ideas, few anywhere near fruition given present limits.

Ryan Grim: What went wrong in the House? "In answering that question, don't ignore the Democratic consultant class."

Naomi Klein: Now we have to fight Trump's tin-pot coup -- and Biden's worst instincts. I don't doubt the latter, but also don't see much value in anticipating them. Trump has made clear his intent to make the transition period as difficult as possible, leaving Biden so much to remedy that it's hard to see much point in squabbling over details. Later on, sure, the left needs to defend its principles, but not to weaponize them against against Biden, who for various reasons is in a very precarious situation.

Sonali Kolhatkar: America -- and the Democrats -- won't have a future if Joe Biden adopts a centrist agenda.

Eli Lehrer: What Joe Biden could learn from Harry Truman about hiring Republicans: I'm skeptical, but don't doubt that there are places where an occasional Republican might help rather than harm. However, understand that any Republican who works for (or even consorts with) the Biden administration will be branded a traitor by the party faithful, and will bring in damn little support. The point on soft vs. hard positions is well taken, and would be a good way to bring left Democrats into the administration without surrendering much power. But what makes it work is that left Democrats have ideas that actually help, unlike wandering Republicans.

Nick Martin: The agenda is still survival: "The Democratic Party can't be mired in intraparty fights about what's 'too far left.' Life as we know it is at stake."

Sara Morrison: How Biden's FCC could fix America's internet: "The FCC can bring back net neutrality and help Americans stay connected during the pandemic." Could, but note that Biden got a lot of money from Silicon Valley, and that Obama had a pretty shoddy record of appointing industry flacks to the FCC. Net neutrality is an easier call because there are industry interests on both sides of the issue, but there's still a big gap between what the less obnoxious parts of the industry wants and what people could actually benefit from.

Ella Nilsen: Democrats are already at odds over how to win in 2022.

Hadas Thier: Biden and the Dems should have buried Trumpism. But they provided no alternative. That's pretty unfair. Anyone who made the slightest effort should realize that Biden offers a clear and major contrast to Trump: He offered a return to the conventional pieties of American politics, to the conventions of unity that Trump flagrantly trashed. Admittedly, he's not nearly as articulate as Barack Obama, and his campaign came off as slack and cliché-ridden. He failed to make the point that Trump and Republicans down ballot are equally dangerous, and he didn't unify Democrats in anything beyond their disgust with Trump. On the latter score, his distancing from policies of the party's left-wing lent credence to Republicans' blanket attacks on all Democrats as radical socialists. It would have been better had he emphasized common principles: rather than attack Medicare-for-all, he could have emphasized his commitment to health care as a universal right; rather than trash Green New Deal, he could have stressed the need for infrastructure development, to limit climate change and to make the economy run more efficiently. In short, he could have gone far toward unifying Democrats on principles rather than dividing them on policies. But then, well, he wasn't a very articulate candidate. Related:

Robert Wright/Connor Echols: Grading Biden's foreign policy team: Tony Blinken. This will likely be a series. The authors previously wrote Introducing the progressive realism report card, and Wright wrote Grading criteria for progressive realism report cards.

Matthew Yglesias: Joe Biden needs to avoid a return to "eat your peas" budgeting.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

The latest covid numbers are: 11+ million cases (14-day change +80%), 245,777 deaths (+38%), hospitalizations 69,455 (+43%). The first and second "peaks" on the chart look like mere speed bumps now. Sedgwick County, KS is regularly setting new records, and all the ICU beds in Wichita are full. Cases are up in virtually every state (Kansas is number 11). Trump carried 10 of the top 13 states.

Half or more of the following articles could have been filed in the more explicitly political sections, but have slopped over here. Not least because pandemic response has become so very political.

Julia Belluz: Why the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is a cause for optimism -- and skepticism.

Jerusalem Demsas: 80 percent of those who died of Covid-19 in Texas county jails were never convicted of a crime.

Igor Derysh: To truly recover, US needs 400% more coronavirus relief than McConnell is offering, economists say. Since McConnell got reelected, why not flood Georgia with ads pointing out that votes for Senate Republicans are nothing more than votes for McConnell's plan to strangle states, cripple small businesses, and starve the unemployed? McConnell makes a much more convincing bogeyman than Chuck Shumer or Nancy Pelosi -- the stars of virtually every Republican scare ad over the last year.

Dan Goldberg/Alice Miranda Ollstein: Pandemic on course to overwhelm US health system before Biden takes office.

Eric Levitz: A nightmare COVID winter could force a GOP awakening on stimulus. Only if the stock market tanks again. Nothing else seems to phase them, and if they think they can blame the stock market on Biden, maybe not even that.

German Lopez: America's third Covid-19 surge, explained.

Nick Martin: Republican malice has turned the pandemic into a deadly loop: "The GOP blocks the stimulus. Nonessential businesses reopen and people go back to work because they need money. Cases surge. People die."

Eleanor Mueller: Health officials sound alarm over impact of Trump's transition blockade.

Benjamin Rosenberg: The second White House coronavirus outbreak: Mark Meadows, the Secret Service, and more.

Dylan Scott: Trump's final two months in office might be the worst Covid-19 months yet.

Michael Tomasky: There's a word for why we wear masks, and liberals should say it: "It's high time Democrats played some philosophical offense on the concept of 'freedom.'" Last week it was David Harvey instructing the left on the importance of embracing the concept of freedom -- for different reasons, to different ends. "Freedom" is a versatile word, and the right's use of it rests on a peculiar ratiocination. So why not? Just don't think it's an elixir. It's as likely to muddle as to inform.

Zeynep Tufecki: It's time to hunker down: "A devastating surge is here. Unless Americans act aggressively, it will get much larger, very quickly."

David Wallace-Wells: Un-normalizing America's third wave. Notes that the number of US deaths due to Covid-19 now exceeds "the number of people who died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Still More on Donald Trump

Zeeshan Aleem: Violence followed the "Million MAGA March" in Washington, DC: Of course it did. Otherwise, evidently very little to report on. Curiously little on turnout. Here's what I found:

John Cassidy: The long-term damage of Trump's antidemocratic lies.

Nancy Cook/Gabby Orr: Trump aides privately plot a flurry of moves in their final 10 weeks: "The White House is eyeing executive orders and regulations on immigration, trade, health care, China and school choice."

Tom Engelhardt: Donald Trump knew us better than we knew ourselves. Subtitle, but more evocative than "Gloom and Doom 2020" or "State of Chaos." Sure, he knew how to play half of America, mostly because he's soaked up the vitriol spewed 24-7 on Fox News, adding only enough ego to think himself the leader of his perverse world. On the other hand, he hardly knows the rest of us at all.

Trumpism has split America in two in a way that hasn't been imaginable since the Civil War. The president and the Senate are likely to be in gridlock, the judicial system a partisan affair of the first order, the national security state a money-gobbling shadow empire, the citizenry armed to the teeth, racism rising, and life everywhere in an increasing state of chaos.

Welcome to the (Dis)United States. Donald Trump led the way and, whatever he does, I suspect that this, for at least the time being, is still in some sense his world, not Joe Biden's. He was the man and, like it or not, we were all his apprentices in a performance of destructive power of the first order that has yet to truly end.

Michelle Goldberg: The post-presidency of a con man: "Out of office, Trump might seem a lot less formidable." Goldberg previously (10/29) wrote a piece I can certainly relate to: Four wasted years thinking about Donald Trump. Also (11/07): We are finally getting rid of him.

Doug Henwood posted a link to a 1934 article by Leon Trotsky: Hitler's National Socialism, and commented on it in Facebook:

This 1934 essay on Hitler et al. by Trotsky appeared in the Yale Review, of all places, and it's pretty fabulous. Lots of relevance to the Trump phenomenon, though there are some differences. Trotsky estimated the petty bourgeoisie to about half the German population; ours is much smaller. And big capital is not yet behind the Trumpy mission, as it was behind the Nazis.

Trotsky wrote:

The leader by will of the people differs from the leader by will of God in that the former is compelled to clear the road for himself, or, at any rate, to assist the conjuncture of events in discovering him. Nevertheless, the leader is always a relation between people, the individualistic supply to meet the collective demand. The controversy over Hitler's personality becomes the sharper the more that the secret of his success is sought in himself. In the meantime, another political figure would be difficult to find that is in the same measure the focus of anonymous historic forces. Not every exasperated petty bourgeois could have become Hitler, but a particle of Hitler is lodged in every exasperated petty bourgeois.

This was written shortly after Hitler seized power, so at a time when Hitler's public support and messianic profile was roughly equal to Trump's. The difference, of course, is that Hitler was a ruthless tactician as well as a demagogue, which allowed him to consolidate power and remake Germany to embody his personal pathologies. There is little chance that Trump will be as successful and as disastrous, but it's not because his personal nature doesn't drive him to such extremes. He is hemmed in by historical constraints (and perhaps by his own ineptness), but his post-election behavior reveals him to be every bit the fascist we've long suspected him of. Secondary point: Marxists have often been exceptional journalists, starting with Karl (see, e.g., "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte").

Ezra Klein: The crisis isn't Trump. It's the Republican Party. Interview with Anne Applebaum, who "wrote the book on why people choose to collaborate with authoritarian regimes," Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.

Michael Kruse: Trump's crazy and confoundingly successful conspiracy theory.

Trump, after all, started preparing for what he was going to do if he lost this election before the last election. And he simply could not be doing what he's doing at this stage if he hadn't been doing it for this long. "He's able to do this now," said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian of authoritarians, fascism and propaganda who has a new book out this week titled Strongmen, "because of all that he's already set up."

It goes way back. "Donald is a believer in the big-lie theory," one of Trump's lawyers told Marie Brenner for a story in Vanity Fair 30 years ago this fall. "If you say something again and again, people will believe you."

Trump is an expert liar. The foundation of his existence is lies. He's not self-made. He's not a good businessman, manager or boss. He's an insider instead of an outsider. He's not been somehow singularly a victim but rather spectacularly privileged and lucky. "He is not who he says he is," former Trump casino executive Jack O'Donnell told me this past August. "He is," Trump biographer Michael D'Antontio said, "a walking lie."

Timothy L O'Brien: Why Trump fears leaving the White House: "Losing the presidency leaves him vulnerable to financial and legal danger."

Nathaniel Manderson: Understanding the Trump voters: Here's why nobody is doing it right: "I've been an evangelical pastor and a teacher in an immigrant community. I'm not shocked Trump did better this time."

Nick Martin: Consider the bootlicker: "Trump's time in office was a group effort. Here's a taxonomy of the grifters, sycophants, and opportunists who made it all possible for the last four years."

Alex Pareene: A coup is a coup: "It's still an illegitimate power grab, even if Republican operatives are only doing it to protect Trump's fragile ego." After Trump's repeated abuse of "coup" to describe impeachment, you'd think we'd be more careful in our choice of words now. Pareene seems to be responding to Matt Ford: This is (probably) not a coup d'état. But the fact is we have no proper word for Trump's stance now. I imagine it's not unprecedented -- surely there have been other elected leaders who have dragged their feet after losing elections, but it's hard to recall them, probably because so few got away with it. Perhaps Trump will become comparably obscure in the future.

Katha Pollitt: The Trump-shaped stain on American life.

James Risen: "We're not a democracy": Quote comes from Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who approves, and like most Republicans wants to see further barriers erected against the democratic impulses of the American people. But it's been Donald Trump who's done more than anyone to act upon Lee's precept. Attempting to discredit the election he just lost if just one more step after many.

While it would be cleansing to get rid of Donald Trump and his cronies, it will not be enough. Regardless of whether Trump wins reelection, the rot at the heart of the Republican Party -- particularly its deep-seated racism -- is not going away anytime soon. With or without Trump, America is in for a generation-long death match between the supporters of white identity in what is left of the Republican Party and supporters of a more diverse society, primarily Democrats.

Using the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the Electoral College, Trump and the Republican Party are trying to build defenses against changing demographics. Those mechanisms allow the party that controls the right states to retain power, even if that party does not represent a national majority. The Republican Party's objective is the political hegemony that comes from the strategic control of key states; it helps explain Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee's recent tweet, in which he noted that "we're not a democracy."

Nathan J Robinson: He'll be back: Starts, appropriately enough, with a New York Times headline from 1923, "Hitler virtually eliminated."

As I write, there are horns honking in the French Quarter and people cheering. I don't think they are overcome with emotional enthusiasm for the upcoming presidency of Joe Biden. They're just thrilled about the end of Donald Trump. For four years, this monstrous man has occupied our constant attention, committing crime after crime, escalating the climate crisis and terrorizing immigrants. Now, thank God, he has been narrowly defeated, and we face four years of a conservative Democratic presidency, which, while it cannot be expected to be good, at least spares us from the worst.

Aaron Rupar: Trump's turn against Fox News, explained: "The network sometimes engages with the reality that Biden won. For Trump, that's an unforgivable sin." More on Fox:

Maggie Severns: Where Trump's recount fundraising dollars are really going: "Money raised to pay for recounts goes to covering campaign debts, funding future political activities and boosting like-minded figures."

Nick Turse: Tantrum and theater: Trump's desperation after election loss isn't yet a coup.

Alex Ward: Why Trump is suddenly replacing Pentagon officials with loyalists. I'm reminded of how GWH Bush sent US troops into Somalia during his lame duck period, a poison pill which Clinton had to clean up later, after the whole operation went bad (remember "Black Hawk Down"?). Clinton, in turn, didn't do a very good job of cleaning it up, so 25+ years later the US is still bombing suspected "bad guys" in Somalia. The interesting twist here is that Trump's idea of a poison pill might not be starting or escalating a new war, but finally withdrawing troops from the endless war in Afghanistan -- a point of contention between Trump and DOD, one where Biden is likely to side with the generals. Americans in general, and Democrats in particular, would be pleased to leave Afghanistan, no matter what the consequences were. While continuing the status quo costs Biden little, having to decide whether to send troops back would be a lose-lose proposition. Trump might relish that.

Around the World

Murtaza Hussain:

  • Trump, the war president, leaves a trail of civilians dead in Yemen.

  • Trump destroyed any hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace -- and Biden can't rebuild it. One big reason Biden can't go back to the Clinton-Obama focus on a "two-state" solution is that it's been a mirage at least since Sharon's destruction of the Palestinian Authority after 2000. Reversing Trump's embassy move won't help that illusion. Nor would it help to undo the Kushner deals, the only effect of which has been to force Arab states to recognize Israel as a condition of American alliance -- which mostly means arms deals. Within this framework, the only thing that matters is mitigating the harsh effects of occupation on the Palestinians, which is to say, recognizing human rights. Needless to say, Trump has also acted to hobble international efforts to recognize human rights abuses everywhere in the world. Biden can and should try to reverse Trump on those policies. Of course, it's possible that Biden will try to have it both ways: defending human rights in general, while carving out an exception for Israel. Such hypocrisy makes a weak impression.

Nahal Toosi: Pompeo expected to announce process for US to label groups anti-Semitic. The criteria is simply whether a group has been critical of Israel, including for human rights abuses. Examples given in the piece: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam. Support for non-violent BDS strategies against Israeli human rights abuses would also be deemed anti-Semitic. Also note that official US designation will be used to further chastise and restrict anyone who regards human rights for Palestinians as important. Also see:

Alex Ward: The surprising Armenia-Azerbaijan peace deal over Nagorno-Karabakh, explained.

Other Matters of Interest

Douglas Belkin: Charles Koch says his partisanship was a mistake: "At 85, the libertarian tycoon who spent decades funding conservative causes says he wants a final act building bridges across political divides." This reminds me a bit of those former Shin Bet heads who spent their entire careers crushing Palestinian opposition, then in retirement decided Israel should have been more accommodating. Charles Koch had as much (maybe more) as anyone to do with making Donald Trump's presidency possible. I don't recall the exact words, but somewhere in Samuel Beckett (Happy Days?) there's an exchange where the son asks his father why he was ever conceived. The father replies, "I didn't know it would be you." After being born with millions, and spending all of a long life strutting and preening like a feudal lord, Koch discovers he wasn't so smart after all. Meanwhile, as with those Shin Bet tyros, his work is being taken up and furthered by younger men, as callous and arrogant as he ever was.

[PS: James Thompson linked to this on Facebook. I commented: "I wrote about this piece in my Weekend Roundup. On further reflection, this is less a mea culpa than a sly take on his own selfishness: a way of saying, now that I got what I wanted from politics, you should give up on politics and stop trying to change my world."]

Sasha Frere-Jones: American history XYZ: "The chaotic quest to mythologize America's past."

Umair Irfan: It's official: 2020 is the busiest Atlantic Hurricane Season on record: "Subtropical Storm Theta is now the 29th named storm of the season." More:

Ezra Klein: The crisis isn't too much polarization. It's too little democracy: "If Republicans couldn't win so much power while losing votes, the US wouldn't be in the current crisis."

Yanna Krupnikov/John Barry Ryan: The real divide in America is between political junkies and everyone else: "Most Americans view politics as two camps bickering endlessly and fruitlessly over unimportant issues." This is false, but offers one more dimension to consider: how much people know and care about politics.

There might be an advantage for politicians who focus less on the demands of partisans and more on tangible issues. Yes, hard partisans are more likely to reward ideological victories, but they are also a minority of the electorate.

Each day, partisan Democrats wonder whether that day's "outrage" will finally change how people feel about President Trump. Partisan Republicans wonder the same thing about Joe Biden. But most "regular" voters are not paying that much attention to the daily onslaught. It turns them off.

And the major scandals that do break through? Well, to many of them, that is "just politics."

The left-right divide is still primary, as it's based not just on ideology but on ethical concerns: leftists seek greater equality in power, rights, and wealth, while right-wingers aim to preserve and enhance privileges. That divide is heightened by asymmetrical information: the right seeks to obscure its moral lapses by spreading propaganda aimed at increasing division by targeting others, while the left tries to expose the right's lies and misinformation and appeal to the people's basic sense of fairness and justice. That's the real divide, even if most people don't recognize it as such. But there isn't a sharp divide between people who people who get this much about politics and those who don't. Rather, there is a gradual attenuation of information and interest, passing down through people who have nothing to react to but isolated echoes, which makes their votes (when they bother) increasingly arbitrary. I suspect that the real explanation for Trump's gains among Black and Latin voters this year was the success of the get-out-the-vote campaigns, leading people who don't normally follow politics to vote anyway. Those people, with so little quality information to go on, simply voted more randomly than more informed voters, and that worked to Trump's advantage. Still, the solution isn't to suppress the uninformed vote. It's to do a better job of informing them -- much better than the Democrats did this year, although Georgia looks like an exception, perhaps because the registration effort was more personal there.

Robert Markley: Kim Stanley Robinson is one of our greatest socialist novelists: I haven't found time for novels, but I know people who would agree.

David Masciotra: If Democrats can't stop acting like losers when they win, America is doomed.

Corey Robin: The professor and the politician: "For Max Weber, only the most heroic figures could generate meaning in the world. Does his theory hold up today?"

Nathan J Robinson:

  • Interview: Stephanie Kelton talks MMT and more. With Sparky Abraham also on the interview. Kelton has a book: The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy.

  • Why nationalism is a brain disease: "Matthew Yglesias' One Billion Americans argues that America needs more people because America must be the best. But why be the 'best'? And what is 'America'?" Robinson suggests an alternate subtitle, trading in The Case for Thinking Bigger for How the Assumption That America "Must" Remain on Top Produces Ludicrous Implications. Examples follow. I've read Yglesias regularly in Vox, and often started these Weekend Roundups with links to his pieces, but his book strikes me as a naked reach for the Thomas Friedman market. And while he no doubt knows a lot, I have no desire for that level of cliché crafting. Besides, I learned all I ever needed to know about nationalism from Camper Van Beethoven: "And if you weren't living here in America/you'd probably be somewhere else."

Jeff Sharlet: A heart is not a nation: "Confronting the age of hate in America." Review of Jean Guerrero: Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, and Seyward Darby: Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: After/math. Since I've mentioned "soul of America" several times recently, let this bury it:

So Biden found his new Neil Kinnock after all, except historian Jon Meacham, unlike Kinnock, is a one-man cliché factory. Is there any phrase more hackneyed and less meaningful than "the soul of America"? How much did the Biden campaign pay Meacham to insert "soul of America" four or five times into every Biden speech? As stale platitudes go, the sell-by date on that one expired 150 years ago and even then Mark Twain would have had rich sport illustrating just how moronic it is.

Randy Stein/Alexander Swan/Michelle Sarraf: Conservatives value personal stories more than liberals do when evaluating scientific evidence. The link to this article had a more potent title: "How conservatives process COVID data."

Among conservatives especially, the idea that the pandemic itself is not a major threat can hold as long as there's personal evidence on offer that supports that view. President Donald Trump's recovery from COVID-19 and his assertion based on his own experience that the disease is not so bad would have bolstered this belief. Recommendations from researchers to wear masks can remain mere suggestions so long as the court of public opinion is still undecided.

Given all this, Trump's quick recovery from Covid-19 could have been the worst possible outcome. Recent history seems to bear that out.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Last week I collected a number of links meant to help readers understand how votes were likely to be counted over time from Tuesday evening into the next day(s). However, on Tuesday evening I found myself with little interest in checking, let alone following, the returns. Nor did my wife, who is much more the news junkie, somewhat more partisan, and definitely more full of dread. So we watched a movie instead (Ford vs. Ferrari, based on a story I followed closely when I was 15) and some stream TV I can't recall -- maybe the Australian series, Mystery Road? I googled election returns before going to bed: Biden was leading in popular vote, but it was closer than expected, with Trump still holding leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but Arizona called for Biden. I saw some Kansas returns, and knew that Barbara Bollier had lost her Senate bid. I spent the rest of the week never going deeper than Google's AP widget, which currently gives Biden a 290-214 lead, a margin of a bit over 4.5 million votes (with Biden at 50.7%), with three states still uncalled: Biden leads narrowly in Georgia, Trump leads a bit more in North Carolina, and much more in slow-returning Alaska.

I had hoped the Democrats would win more impressively, especially in the Senate races. (One piece which explains why is Joseph Fishkin: Please let it not be close: Who 2020 prez outcome probably won't be decided in court. But also Republican obstruction and rule has cost us 10 years of "opportunity costs" as Washington has ignored critical problems.) As it is, Democrats picked up two seats (Arizona and Colorado), lost one (Alabama), are trailing in North Carolina and Alaska, and face two difficult runoffs in Georgia, so it is very likely that the Republicans will control the Senate: leverage they could use not just to prevent Democrats from delivering on any of their legislative goals but totally sandbag the Biden administration: rejecting any or all nominations (judges, even cabinet members), even failing to pass a budget, appropriation bills, and resolutions allowing the government to extend its credit limit. They could, in short, shut the federal government down for the next two years. I wouldn't put any of that past them.

Democrats also lost a few seats in the House, but retain control there. I stil haven't looked at detailed returns for down ballot races. I haven't had much interest in reading people's opinions about why the votes broke as they did, or what it means for the future. Nonetheless, I do have a few opinions:

  1. I doubt that nominating a more progressive ticket would have helped the Democrats much. In particular, I doubt that Bernie Sanders would have inspired more young people to come out to vote Democratic than he would have lost among anti-left Democrats, independents, and anti-Trump Republicans. I also doubt that he would have done much worse (except perhaps at fundraising, which appears to be very overrated this year). And he might have made up some ground by articulating a sharper attack on Trump and/or by promising greater return value for votes.
  2. Biden, like Clinton in 2016, put a lot of effort into wooing Republican crossover votes, which undermined Democrats in down ballot races (especially in Maine, where Republicans won a Senate seat that polls had shown them losing all year; the failed campaign to defeat Susan Collins was the year's biggest disappointment). Biden should have made it clear that he needed a Democratic Congress not just to deliver on his promises but to govern at all.
  3. Biden put way too much emphasis on nebulous ideas like "soul of America" and "saving democracy," and not nearly enough on pocket book issues, like raising the minimum wage, encouraging unions, cutting drug and medical costs, keeping the economy going during pandemic. I'm reminded that in 1860, Republicans didn't campaign on generalities like limiting slavery and preserving the union. Their campaign pitch was direct: "Vote yourself a farm! Vote yourself a tariff!" Sure, both of those points worked to undermine the Slave Power, but they required nothing more from voters than a sense of self-interest. Trump and the Republicans were vulnerable of every front (except arguably taxes, but even there they clearly favored the rich). Democrats could honest have argued that the economy would be much worse without their insistence that the CARES act provide extra money for unemployment compensation and small businesses, and that the only reason it hasn't been extended has been Republican obstruction.
  4. Republicans retained a remarkable degree of unity up and down the ticket, possibly because their charges against Democrats were so outrageous and indiscriminate. Republican Senate candidates won everywhere Trump did (plus Maine), limiting Democratic gains to states Biden carried (less Maine). In many cases, Democratic Senate candidates polled better than Biden, only to lose out. Republicans are brutally efficient at getting their voters out, as they've been for quite some time. One corollary is that it doesn't seem to matter whether the Democratic candidate is left, liberal, moderate, or conservative.
  5. I think the main reason Trump exceeded his polls this time was that he moved some late-breaking voters on pandemic lockdowns. His handling of the pandemic was disastrous, but his ultimate embrace of the disease made him look tough and vigorous, and it aligned with the business interests of potential swing voters. Biden backed away from endorsing more lockdowns, but had a harder time convincing voters that his more cautious approach would be better for the economy. (Note that I'm not endorsing Trump's stance, which is stupid and callous, but it helps explain the small shift at the end.)
  6. Republican control of the Senate will certainly suit some of Biden's richest backers (e.g., Michael Bloomberg, whose money is one of the grossest blemishes on the 2020 elections). It will give him a good excuse not to nominate anyone from what Howard Dean memorably dubbed "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party." (Even if Democrats had won control, their efforts would be checked by the most conservative Democrats in the Senate -- much as Joe Lieberman and James Exon killed the ACA public option.)
  7. The Georgia runoff elections offer an opportunity for Democrats to get a redo, albeit on unfavorable terrain. The Democrats need to run as a team, and beg Georgians to give Biden a chance to work for America. Republicans are already arguing that winning those races is "America's last chance to stop socialism," so they're not going to lose gracefully.

Here's a related Steve M tweet:

Republicans have successfully nationalized every election by linking everything that scares center and right voters to every Democrat. Someone torches a police station? Implicitly the local Dem's fault! Dems never do this to the GOP, which is why Susan Collins won.

The Elections

Josh Barro: Smile, Democrats. Trump lost. You won.

Jerusalem Demsas: Why Georgia has runoff elections: Well, you know, racism, same as in other Southern states that use runoffs to a black person doesn't win a plurality against a divided mix of white candidates. It matters this year because both Senate elections will be going to runoffs. And most likely, the runoff election will draw fewer voters than the presidential, and that will help the Republicans sweep both seats, giving them a slim majority in the Senate, the the ability to sabotage any appointments or other initiatives Democrats push.

Liza Featherstone: There was actually a lot of good news for the left on election day.

Natalie Fertig/Mona Zhang: 1 in 3 Americans now lives in a state where recreational marijuana is legal: "New Jersey, Arizona and Montana passed measures to legalize adult-use marijuana. South Dakota became the first state to authorize both medical and recreational sales at the same time." Mississippi voters approved medical marijuana. Every state that offered voters the chance to weigh in passed the measures.

Matt Ford: Election day was peaceful -- then Trump opened his mouth.

Murtaza Hussein: Nonwhite voters are not immune to the appeal of right-wing populism.

Ezra Klein:

  • How Joe Biden, the ultimate insider, defeated Donald Trump, the ultimate outsider: "The lessons of Biden's unusual campaign."

  • Trump is attempting a coup in plain sight. Not a coup. I doubt there are any institutions in America that could or would launch a coup, either to depose an inconvenient president, or in this case to preserve one who lost an election. It's not just that it's never been done before, or that there's little public support for taking contempt for American democracy to that level. Sure,the courts can (as they did in 2000) tilt the scales a bit. And if the electoral college split ended at 270-268 (as seemed possible before Biden won Pennsylvania), some sort of backroom deal (as happened in 1876 with Hayes-Tilden) might steal the election (although the Supreme Court ruled against "faithless electors" earlier this year). But neither of those disgraceful scenarios would really be a coup. What Trump is doing is everything he can to discredit an election that he clearly lost. He may not understand that he's really discredited himself in the bargain.

Michael Kruse:

  • Donald Trump confronts a new label: loser. By the way, Greg Magarian commented:

    This piece is utterly vicious simply because it's accurate and thorough. I disagree with people who think Trump was a singularly damaging president; in terms of the harm he did, he's just another disastrous conservative, the logical heir of Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes, all of whom slaughtered more people around the world. But Trump is certainly the worst person ever to hold the office, and I'm reveling in his debasement and humiliation. He deserves every drop in the tsunami of suffering that's headed his way.

  • How misfortune -- and stunning luck -- brought Joe Biden to the presidency.

Anita Kumar:

Peter Maass: As Trump is defeated, the Murdochs try to dodge backlash for Fox News. One thing I'll add is that Fox never needed to build a Republican majority to make money. Indeed, their interests favor keeping their audience extremely agitated, even if it's merely a sizable minority. Also, it kind of cramps their style having to defend a Republican establishment, certainly compared to how freewheeling they can get in attacking Democrats. That said, Trump was ideal for them: for one thing, he was living testament to their power and reach; for another, he never tried to be less crazy than they were. But Fox never needed Trump like Trump needed Fox. More on Trump and Fox:

Ian MacDougall: If Trump tries to sue his way to election victory, here's what happens.

Dylan Matthews: Joe Biden has won. Here's what comes next.

Laura McGann: Anderson Cooper described Trump as "an obese turtle on his back flailing in the hot sun".

David Nakamura: Trump's bid to discredit election raises fear that he will undermine a smooth transfer of power.

John Nichols:

  • The Biden-Harris victory brings 'an outpouring of joy, hope, renewed faith': "In cities nationwide, a spontaneous celebration erupts as Trup is defeated and voters usher in 'a new day for America.'" I must admit this took me by surprise, probably because I was bummed by how close the election was, and by the failure to rout Republicans down ballot, leaving Congress divided and ensuring that very little of the Biden-Harris platform stands a chance of getting implemented (at least for two years, but mid-term elections almost always go against the sitting president's party, and Democrats have blown mandates after both Clinton and Obama won with more impressive margins). On the other hand, had Trump actually won a second term after the most appalling record ever, in one of the worst years this country has ever suffered, it would have felt like the end of the world. Dodge that and yeah, joy makes sense. [By the way, Wichita also had a celebration, despite not contributing much to the win. We didn't attend, not least because Sedgwick County is regularly breaking records for new Covid-19 cases.] More celebrations:

  • Georgia voters can put an end to Mitch McConnell's grim reaping: By electing Democrats to two Senate seats subject to runoff. Yeah, but they probably won't. Georgia Republicans do everything they can to make voting difficult, and they're very efficient at winning low-turnout elections.

Ella Nilsen: House Democrats will keep their majority for two more years.

Alice Miranda Ollstein/Megan Cassella: 'A dreaded two years': Biden, allies gear up to face a GOP Senate.

Gabby Orr: Trump faces divided family and friends as calls out for a concession.

Lili Pike: Why so many young people showed up on Election Day.

Max Read: Time has never moved as slowly as it did this week.

Aaron Rupar:

Nate Silver: Biden won -- pretty convincingly in the end.

Still, this brings up one last point: This is the seventh election out of the past eight in which Democrats have won the popular vote for president. If American elections were contested on the basis of the popular vote, this race could probably have been called fairly early on Tuesday night, and we could all have gotten a lot more sleep the past few days. But don't let bleary eyes obscure Biden's accomplishment.

The one election the Republican won the most votes in was 2004, when GW Bush used his minority win in 2000 to start a war in Iraq, and was barely able to rally the nation behind its hapless Commander in Chief, and a thick veil of smoke and mirrors to hide how poorly the war was going. By 2008, Bush was even more unpopular than Trump this year. You can read 538's election blog here: Biden is projected to be the President-Elect. Here's how it all went down.

Emily Stewart: Trump spent years worrying about the stock market only to discover Wall Street doesn't care if he loses.

Asawin Suebsaeng/Sam Stein/William Bredderman: Trump orders advisers to 'go down fighting'.

Libby Watson: The futility of the Democrats' record-breaking war chest: "Liberals lined the campaigns of Senate hopefuls with mountainous piles of campaign loot, only to watch it all burn up on election night."

Matthew Yglesias:

  • Trump's gains with Hispanic voters should prompt some progressive rethinking.

  • 3 winners and 4 losers from a very long Election "Day": Winners: Joe Biden; Congressional Republicans ("Congressional Republicans escape from the Trump years with a tax cut, a stocked federal judiciary, an absolute stranglehold on the Supreme Court, and almost certainly a majority in the US Senate. They did lose the House in 2018 and didn't win it back in 2020, but Democrats' majority is now slim. And Republicans will dominate the redistricting process next year, setting themselves up nicely to make a big run at the majority in 2022."); Poll workers; Losers: Democratic small donors; Blue Texas, Martha McSally; The polls.

Li Zhou: Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman to become vice president. Lots of articles in this vein, as if it matters. At this stage, anyone who has a problem with her race and/or sex needs to get over it. What matters more (and most Republicans will emphasize this) is that she's significantly more progressive than Biden. Of course, that may be a consequence of her experiences given her background. Or she may just be smarter and more respectful and responsible than your average American. More on Harris:

After the Election

Dean Baker:

Jedediah Britton-Purdy: Donald Trump was a monster forged by the American free market.

Thomas Frank: Ding-dong, the jerk is gone. But read this before you sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Fine with me if you sing first, even dance a little. Plenty of time for disappointment later.

Biden can't take us back to the happy assumptions of the centrist era even if he wants to, because so many of its celebrated policy achievements lie in ruins. Not even Paul Krugman enthuses about Nafta-style trade agreements any longer. Bill Clinton's welfare reform initiative was in fact a capitulation to racist tropes and brought about an explosion in extreme poverty. The great prison crackdown of 1994 was another step in cementing the New Jim Crow. And the biggest shortcoming of Obama's Affordable Care Act -- leaving people's health insurance tied to their employer -- has become painfully obvious in this era of mass unemployment and mass infection.

But the biggest consequence of the Democrats' shabby experiment is one we have yet to reckon with: it has coincided with a period of ever more conservative governance. It turns out that when the party of the left abandons its populist traditions for high-minded white-collar rectitude, the road is cleared for a particularly poisonous species of rightwing demagoguery. It is no coincidence that, as Democrats pursued their professional-class "third way," Republicans became ever bolder in their preposterous claim to be a "workers' party" representing the aspirations of ordinary people.

Michael Grunwald: America votes to make politics boring again.

Fred Kaplan: Even without the Senate, Biden can get an awful lot done: "The executive branch is powerful and has only become more so in recent years."

First, there are executive orders. Obama signed 270 of them in the eight years of his presidency (that's almost three per month); Trump signed 176 in his one term (with, perhaps, more orders to come in his remaining two-and-a-half months). Biden could, and probably will, follow suit. (One thing he'll almost certainly do is repeal many of Trump's executive orders, just as Trump repealed many of Obama's.) Some of his predecessors' orders were challenged, and even overturned, in the courts, but not that many. Besides, presidents have other tools of unilateral power at their disposal: administrative orders, federal regulations, and national security decision directives, few of which can be challenged, many of which are deeply buried in bureaucratic documents, some of which are highly classified.

Second, presidents have enormous leeway in foreign policy (a privilege that, for better or worse, Congress and the courts rarely restrict). Biden will almost certainly reenter the Paris Agreement on climate change (which was signed within a United Nations framework, so the Senate would have no say), extend the New START nuclear arms treaty with the Russians (a provision allowed under the treaty itself, which the Senate ratified under Obama), and at least try to revive the nuclear arms deal with Iran (which was a multilateral agreement, not a treaty, and so never required Senate ratification). He won't be able to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty without Senate approval (he would face obstacles with many Democrats as well as Republicans). But he can enter into lots of negotiations with other countries that, in some way, involve trade and regional security.

Kevin M Kruse: Why a Biden administration shouldn't turn the page on the Trump era: "The Obama-Biden administration wanted to move forward rather than hold Wall Street bankers and CIA torturers accountable. If elected, Biden should follow FDR's playbook and expose his predecessor's corruption and mismanagement instead."

Matt McManus: How to avoid another Trump. "Trump was able to divert attention from the profound structural inequities of our time toward an agnostic politics where 'giving the middle finger' to liberals would serve as an ideological substitute for change."

Osita Nwanevu: Will the Democrats ever make sense of this week? "They're more likely to take the wrong lessons from Biden's win and the down-ballot losses."

Alex Pareene: What if Democrats' message just doesn't matter? "Florida voters backed a $15 minimum wage. So did Joe Biden -- and he lost the state. There are important lessons here for the party."

Yanis Varoufakis: Hoping for a return to normal after Trump? That's the last thing we need.

The Pandemic Is Still With Us

Katelyn Burns: The White House is dealing with another Covid-19 outbreak: "Five people have tested positive, including chief of staff Mark Meadows, as the US sees record daily case counts."

Umair Irfan/Julia Belluz/Brian Resnick: The US Covid-19 epidemic hit a deadly new milestone, and help isn't on the way: "More than 120,000 new Covid-19 cases in a single day."

A Odysseus Patrick: Australia has almost eliminated the coronavirus -- by putting faith in science.

Melody Schreiber: Trump is still the president, and the pandemic is getting worse.

David Waltner-Toews: The wisdom of pandemics: "Virus are active agents, existing within rich lifeworlds. A safe future depends on understanding this evolutionary story."

Still More on Donald Trump

Daniel Block: Donald Trup's return to TV would not be easy.

A Trump-controlled network would have an even greater chance of failure. It took Turner and Murdoch years to turn CNN and Fox into behemoths. Both did so when the cable television market was larger and less consolidated than it is today. Conservative media is particularly tricky. The target demographic -- middle-aged-to-elderly white men -- is becoming a smaller proportion of the U.S. They already have Fox.

And Trump is not a talented businessman. His companies have declared bankruptcy six times. His properties bleed cash. And his experience as chief executive of the federal government isn't exactly inspiring. The United States has had one of the worst responses to the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to Trump's dithering and denial. He could delegate the network's management to better hands, but, once again, it's hard to see him not micromanaging.

"Do you really want to help me build a channel for Donald Trump that targets old white guys?" the senior executive said. "I don't think so."

That doesn't mean networks or investors won't work with Trump. In fact, they likely will. Perhaps Fox will give him an enormous contract to call in as a commentator, buying him off without the risks of having to host a Trump show. (Whether Trump, with his massive ego, would settle for anything less than a dedicated prime-time audience is unclear.) Maybe Sinclair will decide partnering with Trump is worth the risk. Someone, somewhere, will pay him for his brand. Indeed, even the most spectacular possible failure -- creating a new channel, only to have it sputter -- could still be a financial win. Al Gore's Current TV never really caught on with viewers. Yet when he sold it to Al Jazeera, he made out with $100 million.

Katelyn Burns: The Trump legal team's failed Four Seasons press conference, explained. More:

Nancy Cook: Trump prepares to launch a second term early, even without winning: "He ay fire department heads like the FBI's Chris Wray and Pentagon chief Mark Esper. He could sign base-pleasing executive orders. He might resume travel."

Emily Dreyfuss: Trump's tweeting isn't crazy. It's strategic, typos and all. I'd rather just think of him as an illiterate moron, but could that just be his personal touch added to devious coaching?

Amy Gulick: The majestic Alaskan rain forest in Trump's crosshairs: Tongass National Forest.

The Intercept: Part Seven: Climate change: "Trump has stacked his anti-science administration with corporate polluters, gutted environmental regulations, and opened protected land for extraction." Most recent installment in a series, American Mythology. Previous parts:

Sarah Jones: Say good-bye to Trump's lesser ghouls: The roll call profiled here: Seema Verma (as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "approved drastic cuts to Medicaid that left thousands of needy Americans without health care"); Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture, issued rules to allow states to cut SNAP); Eugene Scalia (Secretary of Labor, name no coincidence, undermined OSHA among other things); Gina Haspel (CIA Director, torture supervisor); Julia Hahn (White House speechwriter, with white nationalist credentials to rival the more infamous Stephen Miller); Robert Wilkie (VA head, union buster, Confederate monument fetishist); Paula White (White House "spiritual adviser"); Alyssa Farah (White House communications director); Russ Vought (Director of Office of Budget and Management, "task is to reshape the executive branch according to Trump's whims"); William Perry Pendley (acting director Bureau of Land Management).

Nick Pinto: Across the US, Trump used ICE to crack down on immigration activists. This is part of a larger series on The war on immigrants.

Jon Schwarz: During the Trump Era, everyone and everything in America failed: "The possibilities in front of us are real, but we should not deceive ourselves about what we learned during the Time of Trump." Schwarz doesn't limit his list of failures to Trump and the Republicans; also indicted are: Biden, Democrats, and The Corporate Media. Nonetheless, Trump leads:

Before Trump, it seemed obvious that fascists were filled with vigor, always available for a mass torch-lit rally at midnight. Trump clearly has the instincts of a fascist: a lust for power, cruelty toward out-groups, and romanticization of a past that never existed. But he also can't execute any plan that requires more than five seconds of effort. Are you a fascist if you vaguely want to be Supreme Leader, but that seems like a ton of work, and your top priority is getting through all the hours of "Fox & Friends" on your DVR? . . .

It's true the Trump administration has managed to implement policies that blighted the lives of many, many people. But this has been on issues where Trump himself just had to sign papers put in front of him by the small number of his underlings who are minimally competent.

All that said, there is one area where Trump did not fail. Everyone has a mental map of the world inside their head. Mentally healthy people adjust their interior map when they see it doesn't match reality. Mentally unhealthy people try to force reality to change to match what's inside them. Trump, who is pullulating with hate and fear, has successfully devoted himself to multiplying the amount of hate and fear in the world outside of his head.

The most terrifying part of the Trump presidency has not been Trump himself, but the slavish support other GOP politicians have given his every action. We now know for sure that there's nothing a Republican president can do that's so grotesque that the rest of the party won't fall in line behind it.

Supreme Court and Other Injustices

Ian Millhiser:

Benjamin Weiser/Michael S Schmidt/William K Rashbaum: Steve Bannon loses lawyer after suggesting beheading of Fauci: "Mr Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump, said the heads of the FBI director and Dr Anthony Fauci should be put on pikes, leading Twitter to ban one of his accounts."

Around the World

Laura Gottesdiener: The children of Fallujah: The medical mystery at the heart of the Iraq War: "Since the 2003 invasion, doctors in Fallujah have been reporting a sharp rise in birth defects among the city's children -- and to this day, no one knows why."

Murtaza Hussain: Trump, the war president, leaves a trail of civilians dead in Yemen: "A new report sheds light on Donald Trump's bloody continuation -- and intensification -- of the brutality of US foreign policy."

Marissa J Lang: Mexico is poised to legalize marijuana, but advocates don't like the details.

Sharon Lerner: US military responsible for widespread PFAS pollution in Japan: "A new book by Jon Mitchell exposes 'countless' releases of PFAS chemicals by the US military in Japan." Interview with Mitchell, whose book is Poisoning the Pacific: The US Military's Dumping of Plutonium, Chemical Weapons, and Agent Orange.

Timothy McLaughlin: America still thinks it's the election police: "After the 2020 election, who would bother to listen to the US about how to run a vote?"

Other Matters

Harry Browne: Robert Fisk was a reporter who brought the wars home and shaped the thinking of a generation. Fisk died last week. His books Pity the Nation (on civil war in Lebanon, although it also includes important reporting on Syria) and The Great War for Civilisation (on Bush's "War on Terror") were major, but mostly we depended on him for day-to-day journalism.

Matthew Cappuci/Andrew Freedman: Tropical Storm Eta nears Florida with flood threat, hurricane warnings: "The storm's swipe at Florida is part of the second incarnation of Eta, which killed dozens in Central America last week after striking Nicaragua on Tuesday as a devastating Category 4 storm."

David Harvey: Socialists must be the champions of freedom.

Anatol Lieven: US strategists lost empathy, along with their wars.

Paul R Pillar: The global nuclear bargain. Eighty-four nations have signed, and fifty have now ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. You may recall that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) back in 1970 promised that if nations agreed not to develop nuclear weapons, the states that previously had them would disarm. The US and others have failed to do so, hence the need for a new treaty.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: The fog of bores.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Weekend Roundup

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:

If you are a liberal who can't stand Trump, and cannot possibly fathom why anyone would ever vote for him, let me fill you in.

It's not that we love Donald Trump so much. It's that we can't stand you.

And we will do whatever it takes -- even if that means electing a rude, obnoxious, unpredictable, narcissist (your words not ours) to the office of President of the United States -- because the thing we find more dangerous to this nation than Donald Trump is YOU.

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:

I try to avoid TV ads, but some get through. In KS Senate race, Bollier's ads make me wonder why bother electing a stealth Republican? On the other hand, Marshall's ads make me want to vote for her. Sure, I know they're all outrageous lies, but he needs to pay for them.

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."

Jonathan Chait:

  • Trump let the right make him the Herbert Hoover of the coronavirus: "The virus was a chance for Trump to revive his presidency. He blew it by listening to conservatives." He always listens to conservatives. Let's face it, he's not the kind of thinker who actually thinks on his own.

    Hoover, like Trump, was elected on the basis of his image as a can-do businessman (which in Hoover's case, unlike Trump's, was genuine). Ultimately, Hoover's presidency collapsed in the face of a depression whose severity and duration he refused to acknowledge. . . .

    From the outset of the crisis, numerous conservative intellectuals waved off the pandemic as overblown. Various oddball home-brew epidemiological theories circulated to justify this impulse. The esteemed right-wing law professor Richard Epstein estimated no more than 500 Americans would die, a figure embraced by administration officials. After fitful gestures toward following the advice of his public-health officials, Trump eventually sidelined them and put his pandemic response in the hands of Scott Atlas, another conservative movement apparatchik with no expertise in epidemiology. It is a grim historic joke that Atlas, like Epstein, is a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution.

  • The stench of Trump's racism will cling to his enables forever.

  • Tucker Carlson reports he lost only copy of documents that nail Biden.

  • Trump tells the Supreme Court it's on his election team.

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 reélection 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:

I have a different fear this time: What if the polls are right -- and Trump still wins? The election may be over, but the counting is not. His path to victory through the Electoral College may rest with only a few states where Election Night results are ambiguous enough that Trump could question them and, instead, pursue a win via friendly Republican state legislatures and the pro-Trump Supreme Court. Trump has already spent months laying the groundwork for this, preëmptively attacking the "rigged" election, baselessly suggesting widespread voter fraud in the use of mail-in ballots, and authorizing lawsuits to push for as many restrictive conditions on voting as possible in key states. An American President attacking American democracy in advance of an election has simply never been seen before. But he continues to do it every day, in the final run-up to November 3rd. Whatever the election's outcome, this is already one of the greatest political scandals of our time, and a lasting blot on Trump's record.

James Hamblin: Trump has gone from downplaying the pandemic to outright Covid denial.

Even casual observers of President Donald Trump's mode of thinking long ago abandoned hope that he might embrace analytic reasoning (sometimes referred to simply as "science"). But if there were ever a possibility that he might at least come to terms with the power of the coronavirus, it would have been when it sent him to the hospital. Barely a month ago, recall, we had cause to speculate that the president might soon be dead. Although details of Trump's illness remain concealed -- including abnormalities in his chest CT scan and the date that he first tested positive for the virus -- the known facts of his case indicate that it was not mild. He received supplemental oxygen to keep his red blood cells saturated, and he was prescribed dexamethasone, which is recommended only in serious cases.

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:

  • Nate Silver: Trump can still win, but the polls would have to be off by way more than in 2016.

  • Nathaniel Rakich: Both candidates might fall short of 270 electoral votes on election night. But how close might they get? This gives you an hour-by-hour breakdown of when significant votes will be reported. For instance, at 7 EST six states should start reporting: Vermont, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky. Georgia is the bellweather in that group: Biden is slightly favored, but could lose it and still win the election; but if Trump loses Georgia, he's almost certainly toast. One thing I don't like about this presentation is that they're giving you "chance of winning" instead of vote margins (something you can actually track; Kentucky, for instance, is listed as 99% Trump, but the actual vote forecast is Trump +18.2; Indiana is Trump +9.9; South Carolina Trump +8.2; if those races are closer, Biden is likely to be doing better elsewhere; if they are bigger blowouts than expected, Trump is likely to do better elsewhere). The other caveat here is that while networks may call states based on polling as soon as the polls close, the closer races (like Georgia) will take some time to report, and may have big internal divisions (especially in Georgia), so it really matters where the early votes are reported from. At 7:30, you start to get Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Trump is likely to have an electoral vote lead at that point (33-16), but that will probably flip after 8:00, when DC, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Maine, and New Hampshire start to report -- along with probable Trump wins in Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

  • Geoffrey Skelley: The battleground states where we've seen some movement in the polls.

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.

We needn't look back over the past four years -- joblessness, debt, racial strife and international disdain -- to see why Trump is unfit. We need only look back at the past two weeks.

  • He returned to calling immigrants "rapists" and "murderers" and referred to "Barack Hussein Obama."
  • He mockingly mispronounced Kamala Harris's name and used the racist trope of labeling the African American Democratic vice-presidential nominee "angry."
  • His senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, proposed that Black Americans don't "want to be successful."
  • Trump's campaign, after a rally in frigid Omaha, stranded supporters for hours, landing some in the hospital.
  • Judge-appointed lawyers said they couldn't find the parents of 545 migrant children the Trump administration separated from their parents.
  • Trump embraced a "lock her up" chant directed at the Michigan governor, target of a kidnapping plot.
  • Covid-19 relief talks collapsed after the Senate Republican leader told the White House not to make a deal.
  • A federal judge struck down Trump's plan to slash food stamps for 700,000 unemployed Americans.
  • Stocks plunged, suffering their worst week and month since March as pandemic fears outweighed strong third-quarter growth.
  • Trump opened 9.3 million pristine acres of rainforest in Alaska to logging and development.
  • A Trump political appointee resigned in protest because a new presidential order destroys the integrity of the civil service.
  • Trump promoted dubious allegations against Biden that news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, said could not be corroborated by the evidence.
  • Trump told women in Michigan that "we're getting your husbands back to work."
  • And he tried, unsuccessfully, to get Israel's prime minister to join him in ridiculing "Sleepy Joe."

Meanwhile, news broke that:

  • Trump's administration ousted the top scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after he reminded Trump appointees not to manipulate scientific findings.
  • The U.S. Postal Service's on-time delivery dropped below 60 percent in swing states after a Trump ally sabotaged operations.
  • Trump's businesses have received at least $8.1 million from taxpayers and supporters since he took office.
  • Creditors forgave some $270 million of his unpaid debts related to a Chicago building project a decade ago.

But leading the latest parade of horribles has been pandemic ineptitude: the White House issuing a report taking credit for "ending the covid-19 pandemic," Trump's claiming we're "rounding the turn" even as his chief of staff says "we are not going to control the pandemic," and Vice President Pence campaigning despite an outbreak among his staff.

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:

While making a surprise campaign stop in Philadelphia during a rally supporting the re-election of Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Biden ripped into Trump for refusing to condemn his supporters who swarmed a Biden campaign bus on the highway as it passed through San Antonio. The President retweeted a video of the episode with a giddy "I LOVE TEXAS!"

Biden also criticized Trump supporters who brought the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey to a standstill earlier today.

"We have never had anything like this -- at least, we've never had a president that thinks it is a good thing," Biden said.

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.

Cameron Peters:

Andrew Prokop:

Aaron Rupar:

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."

Matthew Yglesias:

  • Nepotism and the 2020 election, explained: "Joe Biden isn't the only candidate with family in question in this campaign." That he even mentions Biden in this regard, let alone dedicating a section to "Hunter Biden makes a living off the family name," is an example of false equivalence. Nepotism is bad for a lot of reasons, and it seems like there's been a lot more of it in recent years -- e.g., the Bushes and Clintons, but the list of lesser figures is pretty long. The root is increasing inequality, and the result is a return to aristocracy. This limits the opportunities to those not born with the advantage of connections, while filling high positions with people far removed from everyday life.

  • Biden has a big lead in the polls, but can we trust them? His answer: "You can mostly rely on the polls, but that doesn't mean Trump can't win." What I would say is that polls do a pretty good job of reflecting what people think at the moment, but they carry more uncertainty than readily meets the eye. Also they can be scammed. Also, it's hard to model some aspects of voting, like actual turnout (how does that compare to "likely voters"). Also, both sides worry about hacking, mostly because Trump has warned us, but also because Trump and his allies are just the sort who have no scruples about cheating democracy.

  • How the polls heading into the last weekend of the election.

  • The latest batch of swing state polls shows a healthy Biden lead.

  • Trump's plan to win by invalidating votes, explained: "First, make it illegal to count votes quickly. Second, pain the slow count as suspicious."

  • Trump's closing argument is against a fake Joe Biden: "He desperately wants to run against 'the radical left' instead." It's hard to see how anyone could find his claims credible, but Republicans all over say the same things about all Democrats -- possibly because were they to talk about issues they may find most voters siding with "the radical left." This inevitable smear tactic convinced many Democrats to pick an obvious non-radical like Biden over someone like Bernie Sanders who really did promise change, but I doubt the slanders could be any worse or more credible against Sanders.

  • The "shy Trump voters" debate, explained. This offers a pretty fair explanation of how polling works these days, and what can go wrong with it. Much less on "shy Trump voters," possibly because the concept is so laughable.


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:

  • Masha Gessen: If we are going to recover from Trumpism, we must deny charity to Trump's henchmen.

    The D.H.S. is the heart, soul, and shock troops of the Trump Administration. Ending immigration as we know it was Trump's obsession and the dominant theme of his Presidential campaign. He pledged to build a border wall and close the country to Muslims, and he began delivering on these campaign promises as soon as he took office. He proceeded to destroy the asylum system by reversing Obama-era rules that granted asylum to victims of gang violence and domestic violence, by requiring people in need of international protection to stay in Mexico while their cases were being reviewed, and by implementing a policy of separating children from their parents at the border, placing them in separate detention facilities. At the time Taylor published his Op-Ed, his department had implemented all of those policies. Children were in cages. Refugee camps were forming at the southern border.

    Taylor didn't mention immigration in his Op-Ed. In A Warning, he focussed on the damage the President had done to America's international relationships, his attacks on the media, his destruction of the system of separation of powers, his betrayal (in Taylor's view) of Republican economic policies, but, most of all, on Trump's unhinged, uncouth ways -- his tendency to act as though the government were his henchmen.

  • Olivia Nuzzi: Enablement: The tortured self-justification of one very powerful Trump-loathing anonymous Republican. "The idea that he won is still shocking. He's a permanent scar on the face of our country."

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.

Matt Ford:

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.

Ed Kilgore:

Marin K Levy: Republicans have already packed state supreme courts.

Ian Millhiser:

Anna North:

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.

Other Matters

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 preëminent 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.

I think Trump is amoral. I think he is a sociopath. I think he is a boor and a vulgarian. I think he is comically thin-skinned and vindictive. I think he is adolescently petty. Because I usually write humor columns, which confer a license to exaggerate, I have called him "America's Chief Petty Officer." I have noted that his supporters often argue that "Hey, at least he is not a politician," which, I wrote, is like "putting your money on a chicken in the Kentucky Derby because at least he's not a horse."

I think he has no empathy for anyone's suffering, something proven time and again: . . . I think he is a reflexive, congenital liar. I think his recent attempts at so-called populism -- suggesting, for example, that we teach "pro-American" history -- are a prehensile tactic, grabbing for a toehold from a shrinking and increasingly insipid political base. . . .

I find myself profoundly disliking and disrespecting almost half of my countrymen and women -- the group of Americans that support Trump, and it feels absolutely terrible.

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.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Weekend Roundup

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

Table of contents:

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

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

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


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

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

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

National Nurses United: Nurses endorse Joe Biden for President!

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

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

The New York Times: Elect Joe Biden, America.

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

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

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

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

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

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Pennsylvania needs Joe Biden.

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

Rolling Stone: Joe Biden for President.

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

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

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

The Washington Post: Trump's America in 2024:

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

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

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

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

Campaigns and Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chas Danner:

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

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

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

    Article quotes a Trump tweet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danner adds:

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

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

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

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

Gabrielle Gurley: Florida's voter suppression obsession.

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

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

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

Sarah Jones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Kilgore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Levitz:

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

  • 3 reasons Trump lost the final presidential debate:

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

    Levitz concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JC Pan:

  • The working class goes missing from yet another debate.

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

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

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

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

Andrew Prokop:

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

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

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

Aaron Rupar:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Stewart:

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Yglesias:

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

Still More on Donald Trump

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

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

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

Russ Choma:

  • How Trump got away with hiding his Chinese business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Longman: The curse of the Trump moneymen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court Hearings and Other Injustices

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

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

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

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

Gessen eventually returned to the hearings:

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

Linda Greenhouse: The Supreme Court we need.

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

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

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

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

Around the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Matters

Sam Adler-Bell: How police unions bully politicians.

Bryce Covert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German Lopez:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Posted this on Monday. It got too late to wrap it up on Sunday, and I hadn't finished looking for links in the usual places, let alone writing any sort of introduction. Got a late start on Saturday, after spending much of last week on two book posts: More Trump Books, and Book Roundup. Also upgraded my machine to Xubuntu 20.4, which has resulted in some breakage and emergency repairs (update removed some optional packages I rely on, and installed PHP 7.4, which broke some of my web pages -- if you notice more, please let me know). Music Week will also be delayed a day.

Table of contents:

Before we get too deep in the weeds, here are a few links that are essentially endorsements. I could collect hundreds of mainstream Biden endorsements, but these are specifically addressed to the left:


Laura and I filled out our ballots and mailed them in today. We both voted for Biden and Harris, for Barbara Bollier for Senate, Laura Lombard for the House (KS-4), Mary Ware (KS Senate), John Carmichael (KS House), and James Thompson (District 18 Judge), and other Democrats (in the races any ran for).

Of course, I urge all of you to vote, for Democrats as much as possible. It has never been more obvious that the American people need to rise up and repudiate the Republican Party and all that it stands for. I won't try to sum that up succinctly here. The reasons should be obvious from the rest of this post, and from the four years of weekly posts I've compiled as Trump Days [.odt format -- see note below]. OK, I will try one sentence: Republicans are committed to maintaining and extending the power of business elites, where some people are privileged and protected while others are consigned to relative poverty and injustice, stripped of rights and subject to violence. Donald Trump is merely the most careless and shameless Republican leader, but the conceit and ethic permeates the party, driving it to snatch power and try to lock it in perpetually, which is why democracy itself -- as Lincoln put it, "government of the people, by the people, for the people" -- is at risk this election. I really hate anything that smacks of melodrama, but this time those stakes are real. If you want to preserve the option that people might someday redirect government to establish justice and serve the people, you must vote Trump and as many Republicans as possible out of office now. Whatever faults and inadequacies Democratic Party candidates may have can be dealt with later.

Let me add that I think lots of people who vote Republican are decent and respectable people, and that I have a lot of respect for people who live their lives according to the conservative virtues of hard work and responsibility for their families and communities. I do think they've been cynically manipulated by the Party's vast propaganda network, especially to think that they're fundamentally distinct from and endangered by Democrats, liberals, and/or leftists, who differ mostly in their commitment to extending equal rights and privileges to everyone.

Note: ODT is the file format used by OpenOffice Writer, which is free software you can download and run on almost any computer you might have. The file format is public, so other non-free software like Microsoft Word (since 2007) can also read, display, and edit the files.

Supreme Court Hearings and Other Injustices

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its rubber-stamp hearings on Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett this week, exposing Republican Senators as the hypocrites and opportunists you surely by now recognized them to be.

Kate Aronoff: This Supreme Court was designed to kill climate policies: "Polluters helped build the court's conservative majority. Would Democratic laws stand a chance against it?"

Donald B Ayer/Alan Charles Raul: Naked Republican hypocrisy is destroying trust in Supreme Court: Reagan, Bush lawyers. Not just the Court. Pretty much every institution they touch.

Jamelle Bouie: Which Constitution is Amy Coney Barrett talking about? "Her originalism ignores the significance of the second American Revolution." I've long thought that the charm of "originalism" for judges like Scalia is that it could mean whatever you wanted it to mean.

John Cassidy: The Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court hearings are an enlightening sham.

Fabiola Cineas: The Breonna Taylor case proves that prosecutors have too much power: "Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron didn't pursue murder charges for the cops who killed Breonna Taylor. Here's how that happened." Interview with Kami Chavis.

Ryan D Doerfler/Samuel Moyn: Making the Supreme Court safe for democracy: "Beyond packing schemes, we need to diminish the high court's power."

Jeannie Suk Gersen: How would Amy Coney Barrett rule as a Supreme Court justice?

Melissa Gira Grant: Amy Coney Barrett's gentle deceptions: "The Supreme Court nominee would have us believe she's just a vessel for the law, but her rise to conservative power tells the real story."

Rebecca Kirszner Katz: Dianne Feinstein made a mess of the Barrett hearings. There is a better way.

Simon Lazarus: The dishonesty of Amy Coney Barrett's "textualist" pose.

Christopher Leonard: Charles Koch's big bet on Barrett: "For almost 50 years, the multibillionaire has been pushing for a court unfriendly to regulation of the market. He may be on the brink of victory."

Nancy LeTourneau: Dark money interests are buying the Supreme Court. People tend to think that the political struggle over the Supreme Court is bound up with culture war, but most law suits are about money, and if you look into the dark money being pumped into promoting nominees like Barrett, you'll wind up seeing a healthy return on investment for right-wing judges.

Whitehouse ended his presentation by addressing what these dark money donors want from the court in return for their investment. While it's true that someone like Barrett was nominated to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Roe v Wade, and Obergefell v Hodges, that is hardly the only agenda. Whitehouse reviewed 80 Supreme Court cases since John Roberts became the Chief Justice that had these things in common:

  1. They were decided 5-4
  2. The 5-4 decision was partisan, with Roberts and the four justices nominated by Republicans in the majority
  3. There was an identifiable Republican donor interest in the case

In every case, the Republican donor interest prevailed. All of those cases were about power, Whitehouse explained, noting that they generally fit into four categories.

  1. Allowed unlimited and dark money in politics
  2. Knocked the civil jury system down
  3. Weakened regulatory agencies
  4. Suppressed the vote

Susannah Luthi: Not just Obamacare: How Supreme Court's conservative majority could remake American health care. Or unmake, or maybe demolish is the better word. Still, there is a reason to be doubtful (or is it hopeful?): ACA was the last-ditch conservative attempt to salvage an industry which had priced itself out of reach from the vast majority of Americans. Shrinking it, ripping off bandaids like Medicaid, hurts the industry's revenues, and further reveals the system to be horribly unfair and unjust. Republicans opposed ACA not because they had a better idea, but because they realized that its inherently flawed design could be exploited for political gain. At present, Biden and the "moderate" wing of the Democratic Party are still committed to making ACA work. If the court kills it, or wrecks it to the point of ineffectiveness, Democrats will have no choice but to adopt a more viable strategy, like Medicare-for-all. And if the Court kills that too, it'll be time to get a better Supreme Court.

Ruth Marcus: Republicans have no standing to complain about court-packing.

Josh Marshall: It's not 'court packing.' Don't be a moron and call it that.

Nick Martin: Mitch McConnell's election dreams are voters' waking nightmares.

Ian Millhiser:

Anna North: Why Republicans keep talking about Amy Coney Barrett's 7 kids. "Republicans are talking about Barrett's kids to make her sound empathetic." "They're also trying to paint liberals as anti-feminist."

Alex Pareene: Supreme Court justices are politicians, too: "And just like Republican politicians, the conservative justices are dedicated to preserving the right's minority rule."

Kate Riga: The long con that culminated with the Amy Coney Barrett nomination.

Aaron Rupar: Amy Coney Barrett refused to say if Trump can delay the election. The correct answer is he can't.

David Sirota/Andrew Perez/Walker Bragman: Amy Coney Barrett is the Supreme Court justice big oil needs. Well, certainly wants. Her father was a long-time attorney for Shell Oil, which has litigation pending before the Court.

Amy Davidson Sorkin: Amy Coney Barrett's silence is an expression of extremism.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: pray, grin and Barrett. "What I learned watching the Amy Coney Barrett hearings: Any Supreme Court precedent ACB won't discuss is one she's willing, if not eager, to overturn." Lots more here, including an item noting that insulin costs 10 times as much in the US as the OECD average, and that almost 5,000 people have died in prisons over the last 10 years while they were still awaiting trial. Also, this item I wasn't aware of:

In 1989, Reds' great Joe Morgan, who died this week, was racially profiled and falsely arrested at LAX. Then the cops lied about him becoming "violent." Morgan sued and won a $500K judgement against LAPD and $800K from City of LA. Morgan's case, along with Rodney King's beating, which happened shortly afterwards, helped rip the veil off of what was really going on inside the LAPD.

Li Zhou:

  • 5 key moments from day 3 of Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court hearing.

    • Barrett says she hasn't spoken out in support of the Affordable Care Act, though she's criticized past decisions upholding it
    • Barrett wouldn't say whether Griswold v. Connecticut was rightly decided, which other nominees have commented on in the past
    • Barrett wouldn't take a position on climate change
    • Barrett declined to comment on whether Trump could pardon himself
    • Lindsey Graham tried to appeal to Republican women
  • Amy Coney Barrett describes climate change as a "very contentious matter of public debate". For whatever it's worth, I don't think it matters what Barrett thinks about climate change, except inasmuch as it reflects on her intelligence and public morals. What does matter is whether she would use the Court to block legal efforts to address the problem. And that is just one example of many where she seems likely to put political interests above majority opinion. Of course, as long as Congress and the President are unwilling to take action against climate change, the Court has no bearing on the matter.

Campaigns and Elections

Trump pulled out of the second presidential debate, not because he was infected with coronavirus but because he refused to participate in a virtual town hall set up to prevent further infections. In place of the debate, both candidates held separate town halls, on different channels. The effect was widely commented on below. Trump has since been sinking in the polls, while scurrying around to "superspreader" events, his pace feverish, his dementia increasingly obvious. And as Trump has struggled, more Republicans down ballot have also slipped in the polls. Some of those races are touched on below, but I'm not all that interested into turning this column into a handicapping report.

Vox [Ella Nilsen, Zack Beauchamp, Emily Stewart, German Lopez, Dylan Scott, Jane Coaston]: 5 winners and 3 losers from the dueling Trump-Biden town halls: Winners: Joe Biden; Substance; FOMO [fear of missing out]; Savannah Guthrie; QAnon. Losers: Donald Trump; The individual mandate; Trump's purported toughness. A very rare win for a moderator.

Washington Monthly: Live blog: The Biden-Trump town halls.

Jake Bittle: The media's obsession with the mythical Republican swing voter.

Aaron Blake: Democrats' stunning fundraising.

Aaron Calvin: A desperate Trump rallies in Iowa as he cancels ads, loses ground. I don't see the quote here, but remember reading somewhere that Trump said that if he lost in November, he's never coming back to Iowa. I have trouble seeing that threat as reason to vote for him.

If he loses Iowa, it will be seen as a referendum on his national response to the coronavirus. Few states have embodied Trump's mandate to "not be afraid" of Covid-19 like Iowa has. Since the early days of the pandemic's spread through the United States, Iowa's unified Republican state government and particularly its governor have been lockstep with Trump, refusing to institute a statewide mask mandate and keeping masks optional for in-person learning. Iowa surpassed California in cases-per-million in early September and hasn't looked back.

Chas Danner: Trump is still targeting Governor Gretchen Whitmer after foiled kidnapping plot. Also:

David Edwards: Trump Jr says dad's 'next move' is to 'break up' the FBI: 'He has to get rid of these things'. Promises, promises.

Dan Froomkin: A dueling town halls upside: Media finally focuses on the wide gulf between Biden and Trump.

Amy Gardner: 'My people fought for the right to vote': With a surge of emotion, Black Americans rush to the polls.

Stanley B Greenberg: How Trump is losing his base: "Focus groups with working-class and rural voters show the deep health care crisis in America, and trouble for Trump's re-election." In general, Trump has been really awful for those parts of his base, but it's pretty arbitrary how that damage has hit individuals, and even those who have suffered have to be able to imagine an alternative, amid all the Trump lies and scapegoating. Another piece:

Jeff Greenfield: Dueling town halls revealed there's no substitute for tough questions.

Makena Kelly: Oracle founder donated $250,000 to Graham PAC in final days of TikTok deal.

Ezra Klein: Biden always understood what this election is about.

Biden was right about the level of our politics right now. He was right about what Americans were looking to hear. The message of Biden's town hall was simple: Politics can feel like this -- gentle, decent, concerned, I hope I've answered your question -- or it could continue to feel like the circus you found if you flipped over to Trump's town hall on NBC.

Natasha Korecki/Anita Kumar: 'He's getting a bit desperate': Trump tramples government boundaries as election nears.

Andy Kroll: NBC's Trump town hall was pointless and shameful.

Paul Krugman:

  • Mitch McConnell's mission of misery: "Why Senate Republicans won't help Americans in need."

    But even if Trump had any idea what he was doing, he would be paralyzed by the opposition of many, probably most Senate Republicans to any serious deal. They're willing to cover for Trump's unprecedented corruption; they're apparently unbothered by his fondness for foreign dictators. But spending money to help Americans in distress? That's where they draw the line.

  • How the GOP can still wreck America: "Even if Trump loses, his party can do immense damage." Gives several examples, but the most obvious and pressing way Republicans can extend their minority power beyond Trump's term is by packing the Supreme Court.

    In the hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Democrats have, rightly and understandably, hammered on the possibility that such a court would use transparently spurious arguments to overturn the Affordable Care Act, causing tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance coverage. Roe v. Wade is also in obvious danger.

    But I'd argue that the biggest threat this court will pose is to environmental policy.

    Put it this way: Charles Koch is reportedly investing millions trying to get Barrett confirmed. That's not because he's passionately opposed to abortion rights, or, probably, even because he wants the A.C.A. overturned. What he's looking for, surely, is a court that will block government regulation of business -- and above all a court that will hamstring a Biden administration's efforts to take action against climate change.

Lisa Lerer: 'Please like me,' Trump begged. For many women, it's way too late. And no, none of them said they wouldn't vote for a woman. More like:

Samantha Kacmarik, a Latina college student in Las Vegas, said that four years ago, she had viewed Hillary Clinton as part of a corrupt political establishment.

Flowers Forever, a Black transgender music producer in Milwaukee, said she had thought Mrs. Clinton wouldn't change anything for the better.

And Thomas Moline, a white retired garbageman in Minneapolis, said he simply hadn't trusted her.

Not clear to me that those are reasons for voting for Biden either, but they are reasons for not voting for Trump ever again.

Lisa Lerer/Reid J Epstein: Why these voters rejected Hillary Clinton but are backing Joe Biden.

Martin Longman: That Ukraine, New York Post story? It's a big nothingburger. More:

Dylan Matthews: Why the Trump campaign is complaining so much about NBC's Savannah Guthrie: "The Trump campaign and allies are now 'working the refs' after the president's brutal town hall."

Rani Molla: The many ways we know 2020 will be a banner year for voting.

Anna North: In 2017, women marched against Trump. Now they're marching to get rid of him. "This time the Women's March is about voting Trump out."

Andrew Prokop: Trump team makes a suspicious effort to swing the election with purported Hunter Biden emails.

Frank Rich: America is tired of the Trump show. I think that will prove to be the bottom line for a critical segment of the electorate, some of whom sat out 2016 and others who figured they had nothing to lose in taking a chance on Trump. EJ Dionne once wrote a book called Why Americans Hate Politics. It wasn't as enlightening as I had hoped, but does clearly describe an impulse that many people feel -- one, quite frankly, I wish I could share. Getting rid of Trump won't make politics boring again, but it will significantly reduce the agita.

Aaron Rupar:

Greg Sargent: How Republicans will try to destroy a Biden presidency. This really just comes down to extortion: elect us or face the consequences, as we'd rather cripple America than let a Democrat succeed.

Dylan Scott:

  • The next presidential debate is the last one. Trump needs to make up a lot of ground.

  • Trump refuses to say the QAnon conspiracy theory is false. I admit to a bit of sympathy with Trump on this question. He starts out saying, "I don't know anything about QAnon." I could have said that. Sure, I've read a bit about it, but nothing sticks because nothing much makes sense. On the other hand, for many people left-of-center, condemning QAnon is a bit of virtue signaling. Granted, it seems like everyone who's into QAnon is also supporting Trump, but isn't the more tangible problem there supporting Trump? In recent venues, Trump has been repeated taunted with invitations to condemn white supremacists. I'd answer that, "Look, I don't want to condemn anyone." Then I'd go on to explain that white supremacy is bad and hurtful, and should be opposed anywhere and everywhere it pops up. But condemning people? No, I'd rather not. Unless you're talking about individuals who not only spout bad and hurtful ideas but have the power to act on them. For such individuals, like, you know, Donald Trump, sure, condemn away. Moreover, it's not like Trump refuses to condemn people on principle. He condemns people all the time, both individually and in sweeping groups.

  • How Joni Ernst went from future Republian star to an incumbent on the ropes in 2020. Not sure what's so surprising here. She played on experience castrating pigs for a genius campaign slogan in 2014: "Make 'em squeal!" On the other hand, do we really want "Keep 'em squealing"? Republicans have often sold their campaigns as some kind of revenge fantasy, but it rarely turns out that the people who get hurt are the ones you were hoping for. Ernst, like Trump, has built up a huge chasm between hopes and returns.

Walter Shapiro: The whiplash of watching two town halls from different planets: "I watched both Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Thursday night. It was like channel surfing between sanity and chaos."

Alex Shephard: NBC did Joe Biden a big favor: "By scheduling a dueling town hall, the former vice president got the perfect contrast with a raving Donald Trump."

Emily Stewart: Savannah Guthrie delivered the Trump interview we've been wanting for years.

Matt Stieb: Trump's latest Biden insult: 'He'll listen to the scientists'.

Matthew Yglesias: The delightful boringness of Joe Biden.

The dirty secret of Donald Trump's often contentious relationship with the American press is that he's been great for business.

Any time you point a camera at Trump, something crazy might happen. He goes on television and insists that his attorney general prosecute his political opponents. Biden, asked about legal accountability for Trump-era misdeeds, said it would be inappropriate for the president to be making that kind of decision. He tries to take contentious flashpoint issues and smother them in reasonableness and a broad sense of public decency. As a journalist whose job involves trying to write articles people want to read, I was, frankly, sad to have been assigned to watch the Biden town hall, which was just not that interesting.

This section picks up stories that don't exactly dovetail into the campaign, but deal with Trump and/or his administration over time.

Jonathan Chait:

Michelle Cottle: The self-dealing administration. Probably the most corrupt administration in American history. Certainly the most shameless about it.

With so much grift and graft and self-enrichment swirling about, it's amusing -- and yet horrifying -- to recall that Mr. Trump ran in 2016 as a tough, independent outsider who would bring in the "best people" to help him clean up political corruption. Today, as election night looms, the president's campaign has reportedly booked the Trump International Hotel in D.C. for a victory party. Rooms sold out months ago.

Forget draining the swamp; the president slapped his name on it and began charging admission.

Igor Derysh:

Spencer S Hsu: Federal judge strikes down Trump plan to slash food stamps for 700,000 unemployed Americans. For background, see:

Mara Hvistendahl/Lee Fang: China's man in Washington: "Move over, Hunter Biden. Meet Eric Branstad, the China Ambassador's son who got rich in Trump's swamp."

Sonali Kolhatkar: In Trump's America, there is death before due process.

Robert Mackey: Trump boasts about federal task force killing anti-fascist wanted for murder in Portland.

Nicole Narea: Trump's obstruction of the 2020 census, explained.

Cameron Peters: Why Trump flip-flopped on California disaster relief.

Robert J Shapiro: Trump's tax wizardry is even more sophisticated than you thought. This is a fascinating explanation of how Trump does business.

Millions of Americans believe that Donald Trump is a business failure who cheats on his taxes. But to borrow one of his favorite insults, the president may not be "the stone-cold loser," many imagine. In some ways, he's a success even considering his businesses generate vast losses, and he personally liable for the hundreds of millions of dollars in bank loans and junk bonds borrowed by those businesses. Instead, think of Trump as practicing an extreme alchemy of the shameless rich: He uses loans from other people to generate millions in annual tax losses as a tax shelter from millions in annual income.

How he does it is the fascinating and, perhaps, illegal part.

Alex Shephard: What did Carlos Lozada learn from reading 150 Trump books? "Not much!" Review of Lozada's book, What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era. I've been looking for, but haven't found, a list of those 150 books. I'm curious how they stack up against my Trump Books and More Trump Books surveys. More on Lozada:

Sheryl Gay Stolberg: White House embraces a declaration from scientists that opposes lockdowns and relies on 'herd immunity.' Document came from a libertarian think tank (American Institute for Economic Research). Article doesn't mention Sweden, where something like this was tried, and failed badly.

Philip Weiss: Trump stumps for Nobel Prize, saying US troops can come home if Israel has peace.

Philip Weiss/James North: Adelsons got a lot from Trump for $75 million -- but media won't tell you what.

The news late yesterday was that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson poured $75 million in September into a new super PAC that supports Donald Trump. Way more money than other donors, on either side.

Around the World

Enough world news pieces this week to merit their own section.

Julia Belluz: The 4 simple reasons Germany is managing Covid-19 better than its neighbors.

Glenn Greenwald: Bolivians return Evo Morales's party to power one year after a US-applauded coup. Election was held on Sunday. Some other links from earlier in the week:

William Hartung: How to stuff the Middle East with weaponry.

Steve Hendrix/Ruth Eglash: Israel ordered a second lockdown in response to coronavirus resurgence. It is not going so well.

Jen Kirby: The EU and the UK still haven't reached a post-Brexit agreement. What's next?

Michael Klare: A game of nuclear chicken with Russia and China.

Anna North: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wins historic reelection.

Cameron Peters: Thailand's protest movement gains momentum amid a government crackdown.

Lili Pike: How the world's biggest emitter could be carbon neutral by 2050: "Xi Jinping wants China to get to net-zero emissions. These researchers have a plan for that."

Alex Ward:

  • North Korea has unveiled new weapons, showing Trump failed to tame its nuclear program.

  • What Trump got right -- and wrong -- with North Korea, explained by a former intel official: Interview with Markus Garlauskas, who comes off as very dumb, especially in his conclusion: "We have to be willing to go back to a 2017 level of confrontation. If Kim senses that the US is more afraid of war than he is, he has the advantage." What difference does "advantage" mean in a nuclear confrontation? Where both sides have the ability to inflict grievous damage upon the other, there can be no such thing as winning. The failure to negotiate an end to the 1950-53 War is the result of several asymmetries. The balance of terror favors the US, but even when it was much greater than it is now, it was never enough to force North Korea into capitulation. Indeed, it's only with the leveling of the balance of vulnerability that the US has shown any interest in any sort of agreement. (Granted, the destruction of North Korea would be more complete, but the US has much more to lose than does one of the poorest and most isolated countries in the world.) But the really dangerous asymmetry is of stakes. Normalizing relations would make all the difference in the world to North Korea, yet until North Korea developed a credible nuclear threat, the Americans were happy to bottle up and ignore North Korea. Trump failed to negotiate a deal because he was unwilling to compromise on sanctions, even after North Korea had backed down from the threats implied by its nuclear and missile testing programs. The net result was that North Korea got nothing tangible for its concessions, so has no reason to continue with them.

  • Russia and China will join the UN Human Rights Council. The US should too. Seems to me like it's a rather moot point until such time as the US actually develops an even-handed concern for human rights, as opposed to the current practice of charging countries it doesn't like while excusing those it considers allies. Should that happen -- at the least it involves defeating Trump, but electing Biden is no guarantee, especially viz Israel -- then I can see plusses trying to work with Russia and China within UNHCR, even though neither has close to a sterling record. The US record leaves much to be desired, too.

And then there's everything else.

Patrick Blanchfield: The town that went feral: "When a group of libertarians set about scrapping their local government, chaos descended. And then the bears moved in." Town and bears are in New Hampshire. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling wrote a book about it: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears).

John Cassidy: The great coronavirus divide: Wall Street profits surge as poverty rises.

David Daley: Inside the Republican plot for permanent minority rule: "How the GOP keeps cheating its way into power -- and may get away with it again in 2020." Daley is the author of the book on GOP gerrymandering: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, and more recently, Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.

Steve Fraser: Was American history a conspiracy? Somehow I missed Fraser's book, Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History (paperback, 2019, Verso), although I did read Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life (2006), The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015), and Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion (2018).

We live in conspiratorial times. The decline of the United States as an uncontestable super-power and its descent into plutocratic indifference to the wellbeing of the commonwealth is the seedbed of such conspiracy-mindedness. Soldiers are sent off to fight interminable wars of vague purpose against elusive "enemies" with no realistic prospect of resolution, much less American-style "victory" whatever that might mean these days. "Dark money" undermines what's left of democratic protocols and ideals. Gross and still growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth and income are accepted year after year as business as usual.

All of this breeds entirely justified resentment and suspicion.

Gabrielle Gurley: Like Southwest Louisiana, FEMA is worn down.

Bob Henson: Iowa derecho in August was ost costly thunderstorm disaster in US history.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: Refugees who assisted the US military find the door to America slammed shut: "President Trump has reduced the flow of refugees into the country to a trickle, and even Iraqis and Afghans who risked their lives for American service members have been cut off." As someone who opposed those wars from the git-go, this doesn't bother me much, nor am I surprised: I never thought America's commitment to liberating people abroad was sincere or even serious. On the other hand, the historical rule of thumb was that colonizers and imperialists would honor commitments made to people who helped them despite widespread resistance. That is, after all, why the UK and France have substantial minorities who emigrated from their former colonies. Even the US has substantial minorities of Cubans and Vietnamese. (Anti-communist refugees proved to be an advantage for the far right. Even now, see: Will flag-waving Latinos win Florida for Trump?) But the War on Terror was never anything more than a cynical effort to demonstrate America's supposedly awesome power and use it to cower the Muslim World.

German Lopez: 2020's marijuana legalization ballot measures, explained. Full legalization is on ballots in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. South Dakota also has a medical marijuana referendum, as does Mississippi.

Timothy Noah: The media's both-sides brigade is wrong about a Covid-19 stimulus deal.

Zoë Richards: Man arrested in threat to kidnap and kill Wichita Mayor over mask mandate. Mayor Whipple has done a good job of listening to folks bitch about masks while guiding a series of mask mandates through the City Council (always in conflict with the Sedgwick County Commission, which has a 4-1 asshole majority). Evidently Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) has also received threats. Richards also wrote: Northam says white supremacists are taking 'marching orders' from Trump.

Nathan J Robinson/Rob Larson: Big business and its bottomless bootlickers: Review of Tyler Cowen's new book, Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.

Dylan Scott: America's newest wave of Covid-19 cases, explained. "Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are up across the country." Trend line is up since mid-September. Kansas as set records 3-4 weeks in a row. We have friends in Massachusetts who just tested positive. There are more famous names in the news.

Brittany Shammas/Lena H Sun: How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have spread coronavirus across the Upper Midwest.

Jennifer Szalai: A undercover trip into the rageful worlds of incels and white supremacists: Review of Talia Lavin: Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy.

But she doesn't leave it at that, and one of the marvels of this furious book is how insolent and funny Lavin is; she refuses to soft-pedal the monstrous views she encounters, and she clearly takes pleasure in cutting them down to size. She is aided in her mission by the fact that the language of extremists tends to occupy the space between risible and profoundly dumb. Contemporary white supremacy is a mishmash of old anti-Semitic tropes, racist pseudoscience and bizarre fantasia -- what Lavin calls a "bigot's pastiche." The people who promulgate it often toggle between cruel, inane jokes and a fastidious humorlessness. "Anything," Lavin writes, "an errant wind, a dumb tweet, a conspiracy theory invented from whole cloth -- can drum up the forces of white grievance."

Libby Watson:

  • The Democrats aren't serious about campaign finance reform: They obviously weren't serious after the 2008 elections, which gave them the Presidency and huge majorities in Congress, probably because the one thing most of those winners had in common was a knack for raising money. This year Democrats are doing even better at fundraising (see Aaron Blake above). On the other hand, aren't you really sick and tired of this system?

  • Ben Sasse is a fraud: "The hard-line Republican senator wants us to believe he's a Never Trumper again, after making peace with the president last year." Nevertheless, he hit a nerve: see Trump fires back as Sasse after town hall criticism.

Matthew Yglesias: The quest to build the most diverse Cabinet in US history, explained. This is all very depressing to think about now, not least because making bad picks -- and let's face it, most of the touted candidates are pretty deeply wedged into the old status quo -- diminishes the idea of an open future. But also because Clinton tried the whole "Cabinet that looks like America" shtick, and while he met his quotas on race and sex (and whatever), he wound up with a lot of rich folk working to make the rich richer, with the "trickle down" mostly shunted off to his foundation and political machine. But even with all due skepticism, one shouldn't get too bent out of shape by these prospects. Even his most compromised picks are as much better than Trump's picks as Biden himself is better than Trump.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Got a late start, by which time I was so annoyed and frustrated that I merely went through the motions. Hoped to get three things done during the week: a new batch of questions and answers, including a ballot exercise for a list of all-time greatest records; a books post (not yet done); and an update to my collection of Trump-era (2017 et seq) blog posts (thought I had it done, then decided to append some earlier Trump references, which I didn't get done (for the .odt file; link will still work when I catch up; beware that it is currently 874,147 words, 2,346 pages; there is a fair amount of redundancy there, but also a lot to be outraged about). I thought the latter might be useful for trying to write an endorsement letter like I did for Kerry vs Bush in 2004. But while I thought it important to try to construct a strong logical case back then, I'm not sure that's worth the effort this year. One could enumerate hundreds or thousands of reasons why Trump should be denied a second term, but the most fundamental one is: aren't you simply embarrassed that this guy has been given any measure of constitutional power in the United States of America? And if you aren't, why? I usually make a serious effort to understand how other people think, but I can't imagine any defense of Trump. If that isn't obvious enough, download the book, and read this week's addition (not yet in the book, but coming soon).

Another possible project would be to edit those 2,346 pages down to something humanly readable. But right now, I'm not sure how much practical benefit that would offer. Or how much work I can possibly put into such a project. Election day is less than a month ago. If Biden wins, Trump will be history, and probably forgotten as quickly as GW Bush was after 2008. And if Trump wins, the future will be bleak indeed, not least because the stabilizing force of democracy will be so thoroughly discredited. Indeed, one of the most bizarre things about this election is how hard Trump is working to make sure that even if he wins, he won't have any legitimacy left to govern, because he's gone so far out of his way to discredit the entire electoral process. If you are a person with a stake in the system, you cannot afford to give him another term.

And two more obvious points: the only real way to vote Trump out is to vote for Biden-Harris -- regardless of what you think of Biden-Harris (and frankly I don't think much of either); and while Trump is loathsome and obnoxious on a personal level far and beyond his party (including his VP Pence), the real harm he has done to this country has been his promotion of mainstream Republicans -- to the judiciary, to run the bureaucracy, to let lobbyists pollute the environment and get away with predatory business practices, to make the world a much more dangerous and hateful place. Hence, you should not only vote Trump out, but take his whole Party down with him. Our future depends on it.

This week's topics are much like last week's topics:

The Covid-19 Pandemic and the White House

Alex Abad-Santos: Even while sick with Covid-19, Trump sees masks as a symbol of weakness.

Eliza Barclay: Trump and his staff's refusal to wear a face mask is a catastrophe.

Julia Belluz: No, the Regeneron drug Trump received is not a Covid-19 "cure". One thing that's disturbing about Trump is how readily he likes to offer himself as a pitchman.

Troy Closson: 80-year-old is killed after asking bar patron to wear a mask.

Jahnavi Curlin: I'm a contact tracer. Trump's advice not to fear Covid-19 is dangerous. "I talk to people with Covid-19 almost every day. Trump's experience of the disease couldn't be more different from theirs."

Chas Danner:

Sheila Kaplan: White House blocked CDC from requiring masks on public transportation.

Eric Lach: Donald Trump's campaign rallies are now confirmed public-health hazards.

German Lopez:

Olivia Nuzzi: The entire presidency is a superspreading event.

Kelsey Piper: Photos of Trump's reckless activities, ranked by their Covid-19 risk.

Kaleigh Rogers: What are the possible side effects of Trump's Covid-19 treatment?

Aaron Rupar: The White house won't say when Trump's last negative coronavirus test was. Here's why it matters.

Melody Schreiber:

Dylan Scott: Trump has been the biggest source of Covid-19 misinformation, study finds.

Joanne Silberner: Why Covid-19 cases are surging in the UK.

Emily Stewart: The Trump-related coronavirus cases we'll never hear about.

Libby Watson:

Jeff Wise: For Trump, the most dangerous Covid phase lies ahead.

The VP Debate

I don't watch debates any more. At their best, you get one (or two) candidates skillfully navigating the conventional wisdom while trying to land a couple of memorable zingers. I remember Reagan-Mondale in 1984, which Mondale totally dominated on points and logic (not that I in any way enjoyed how belligerently anti-Communist he came off), but all the history books remember was Reagan's zinger ("I won't hold my opponent's inexperience against him"), plus Reagan's landslide that November. At worst, you get someone as boorish and ignorant as Donald Trump, and I've seen more than enough of him. Evidently, Pence avoided the worst by not being Trump, yet he had to tread carefully lest he offend his master, so he just tried to spin what he could, and duck the rest. He may not be as flagrantly loathsome as Trump, but his greater deliberation and cunning strike me as even worse traits. One thing the debate has done is to give us pause to reflect on his reign as VP. He has been every bit as consequential as Dick Cheney, for much the same reason: a weak, shallow, needy leader, and the opportunity to stock the upper reaches of government with his extended crony network. If he's underrated, it's because he's done all this with less fanfare than Cheney, and he's repeatedly had to prostrate and humiliate himself before Trump's overweening ego.

Vox [Emily Stewart/German Lopez/Ella Nilsen/Li Zhou/Anna North/Dylan Matthews]: 5 winners and 3 losers from the vice presidential debate: Winners: Kamala Harris; Covid-19, Boringness ("Mike Pence is boring"; "But on Wednesday night, Pence's boringness was a strength"); #KHive; The fly. Losers: Infrastructure week; Ordinary Americans impacted by Covid-19; Susan Page. Possible research subject: Has there ever been a debate where the moderator wasn't a loser?

538/Ipsos (Laura Bronner/Aaron Bycoffe/Elena Mejia/Julia Wolfe): Who won the vice presidential debate? "Harris got higher marks for her performance -- and her policies." Harris led in "popularity contest" metrics, and improved more over the debate (+6 favorability compared to +2 for Pence). Harris led favorable 51-39; unfavorable was Harris 41, Pence 53.

Matthew Cooper: Pence was pretty good. Harris was better.

Susan B Glasser: Mike Pence's Trumpian makeover.

Trump, though, is immune to embarrassment -- his lack of shame has long been one of his political superpowers -- and so it must be for those around him. Among the many questions that Pence refused to answer was one of the week's more obvious, given the large cluster of coronavirus cases in the White House and the President's own illness after months of refusing to wear a mask or observe social distancing: Why should the American people listen when you tell them to abide by public-health guidelines that you yourself refuse to follow? Pence's response was a model of misdirection, which had something to do with the Green New Deal and the coming government takeover of health care under the radical-left Democrats. Harris could only look on in amazement, shaking her head at the brazenness.

Sarah Jones: Trump won't debate unless there's a risk of infecting Biden. "At least the CPD has blocked him from accomplishing the 21st-century equivalent of pitching a plague corpse at an enemy."

Jen Kirby: About that fly in the vice presidential debate. Needless to say, a dozen or more people I know responded by linking to videos of Wire's videos I Am the Fly -- not just because it's the most famous song about flies, but because you could imagine it as Pence's soundtrack: "I shake you down to say please/ As you accept the next dose of disease."

Eric Levitz: No one won the Pence-Harris debate. But Trump lost. "The jarringly normal debate drove home how much worse Trump is at politics than his 'generic Republican' running mate."

Jason Linkins: Kamala Harris and Mike Pence tried to have a normal debate. It didn't quite work.

Martin Longman: Is Trump chickening out of more debates?

Josh Marshall: Not even close.

I wouldn't say Harris wowed. There weren't a lot of zingers. But she hit every last point the campaign could have asked for. Just methodically. Killing the ACA, Charlottesville, the horrific failure of the COVID response. She didn't really care about Mike Pence. She was there to make a case against Donald Trump. And she did.

Nicole Narea: A post-debate focus group of undecided voters suggests that Kamala Harris faces an uphill battle.

Terry Nguyen: Why Mike Pence's pink-looking eye caused so much speculation.

Anna North: What a Pence presidency would look like: "We've already seen a lot of what he might do."

Ella Nilsen: The second debate between Trump and Biden is canceled.

Dylan Scott: Mike Pence tried to blame Kamala Harris for undermining a Covid-19 vaccine. But the public blames Trump.

Amy Davidson Sorkin: Covid-19 at the vice-presidential debate.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: A fly in the ointment. Weekly column, starts with the debate (almost live-blogging), noting among other things that "in medieval art, a fly was often paintedon a liar and moral hypocrite." More substantively:

Pence put himself in the difficult position of making Harris look like she was weak on crime while, at the same time, being an over-zealous prosecutor. Of course, the kind of crimes Harris was weak on are the very financial crimes committed by the current Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. It was a point Pence couldn't press and Harris couldn't defend.

St Clair eventually moves on to other topics. He offers a table of "new Covid-19 cases in the last 7 days: Vietnam - 5, Taiwan - 9, Yemen - 10, New Zealand - 25, White House - 34." He adds, "The Trump administration hasn't delivered this many positive results since, well, ever."

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: Out-of-touch, incoherent foreign poicy on display in Harris-Pence showdown.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: A straightforward vice-presidential debate about a catastrophic presidency.

Matthew Yglesias: Mike Pence played a weak hand well.

Other Aspects of the Campaign and Elections

Katelyn Burns:

John Cassidy: Donald Trump's loopy self-pity tour of conservative media outlets.

Isaac Chotiner: How to make sense of the polls. Interview with Sean Trende, of Real Clear Politics.

Summer Concepcion: Here's how Trumpworld is rallying behind Covid-infected POTUS return to campaign trail. Spots on Larry Kudlow, Eric Trump, Lara Trump, and Ronna McDaniel.

John F Harris/Melanie Zanoma: Republicans are finally ready to diss Don: I think they're grasping at straws here. Trump will be fair game if he loses, especially dragging lots of Republicans down with him, but until then few have the mettle to disrespect him, especially given that his fans are bred to be even more vindictive than the average Republican. That there's any equivocation at all signifies a much broader fear over the election. Conversely, the only reason GOP mandarins flocked to him was when he proved himself as a miracle winner in 2016.

Jen Kirby: The battle over a Texas order limiting ballot drop-off locations, explained.

Nancy LeTourneau: The media is spreading Trump's lies about mail-in voting.

Julia Lurie: Private prisons have spent more on this election than any other in history.

Nick Martin: North Carolina's labyrinthine voting nightmare: "A mix of Trumpian meddling, legal holdups, and a bureaucratic mess is putting Black voters at risk this election.

Aaron Rupar: "They want to take care of certain little tiny fish": Trump's Hannity interview was off the rails.

Paige Williams: Inside the Lincoln Project's war against Trump.

Li Zhou: "Mr Vice President, I'm speaking": Kamala Harris repeatedly shut down Mike Pence's interruptions at the debate.

Still More on Donald Trump

David Atkins: Trump is the most crooked president in American history. That should matter.

Andrea Bernstein: Pattern of deception: From Trump family business to grifter in chief.

Jonathan Chait: Trump's lifelong obsession with his superior DNA is being put to the test.

Fabiola Cineas: Donald Trump is the accelerant: "A comprehensive timeline of Trump encouraging hate groups and political violence." Timeline starts in June, 2015, with details on 42 separate instances.

Steve Coll: Donald Trump's consistent unreliability on Covid, and everything else. "It is painful to reflect on the tens of thousands of lives that might have been saved if a less reality-challenged President had occupied the White House."

Tyler Cullis: The undeniable cruelty of Trump's 'maximum pressure' on Iran.

John F Harris/Daniel Lippman: Amateur hour at the Trump White House: "The coronavirus outbreak at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is just one facet of a much deeper presidential malaise."

Fred Kaplan:

Kevin Liptak: Trump calls in for rambling and ugly post-hospital interview.

Josh Marshall: Folks, the Executive Branch needs an audit.

Nicole Narea:

Doug Palmer: Why Trump lost his battle against the trade deficit: "The monthly deficit in US goods trade with all other countries set a record high in August at more than $83 billion." Shouldn't this have been the key metric to determine whether Trump's promises on jobs and trade, and his flirtation with tariffs, been judged on? As noted here, Turmp's trade adviser Peter Navarro "predicted in 2016 [the trade gap] could be erased in one or two years." One might counter that today's results are the simple extension of longer-term trends, but you have to admit that Trump did nothing to budge them.

JC Pan:

  • Melania Trump's charmed pandemic life: "The first lady once again gets off light -- thanks to a gullible media and an incredibly low bar set by her husband." Just a thought, but I haven't seen a single report on her illness beyond the initial positive test. Does she really have the disease? Certainly plausible, given how many people in and around the White House have contracted it. On the other hand, how would it look if the president got it and she didn't?

  • A thrilling week inside Trump's flailing masculinity death cult: "The president was sick -- but strong! Actively infections -- but still man enough to debate!"

Alex Shephard:

Supreme Court, and Other Injustices

David Atkins: Republicans have already packed the courts. It's up to Democrats how to rebalance them. Amen.

Dahlia Lithwick: We know exactly how Amy Coney Barrett will unravel Roe.

Ian Millhiser: The bizarre abortion order just handed down by the Supreme Court, briefly explained.

Tom Scocca: Amy Coney Barrett is as cynical as Trump.

Adam Wren: How Amy Coney Barrett's religious group helped shape a city: "The People of Praise isn't well-understood by outsiders, but its influence -- and social conservatism -- run deeply through this Indiana city.".

The Economy With No Stimulus Deal

Josh Barro: Wall Street got what it wanted from Trump and is ready for Biden.

Katelyn Burns: Stimulus talks are at an impasse as Senate Republicans object to White House package.

Jane Coaston: Trump's stimulus obstruction excites fiscal conservatives -- and no one else. I was going to ask why are these fiscal conservatives. The article names Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, who've never considered the possibility that tax cuts for the rich might increase the deficit.

Ed Kilgore: Erratic Trump is all over the place on stimulus deal.

Paul Krugman:

  • The very strong case for Bidenomics: "The former vice president's tax and spending claims are credible; Trump's aren't."

  • Bidencare would be a big deal: "Don't dismiss it because it isn't Medicare for All. Krugman has long been the most effective proponent of ACA, possibly because he concedes the point that Medicare for All would be better. His pet tactic is to argue that ACA could be made as effective at the key goal of universal coverage -- sure, a bit more expensively, but at a more realistic political cost. But here all he seems to be offering is to throw more money at the problems, without any real hope of limiting the drain. I don't doubt that Biden could reform ACA for the better, but it still looks like a lost cause.

  • Trump is killing the economy out of spite. It's really not just Trump, although he does a remarkably poor job of hiding his intent. But Republicans have been soliciting votes for fear of the sabotage they'd inflict on Democrats if Republicans lost. Deficit spending is OK as long as the Republicans are in power. The government won't be shut down (at least until Trump). Republicans aren't going to brow eat one of their own into starting a war (unless he really wants to). I've long thought that one of the reasons Hillary lost was that the people decided they wanted to spare her the endless string of phony scandals Republicans have long been able to nag her about. I've never understood why people (or the media) would put up with extortion, but somehow Republicans never got blamed for being bastards. Somehow, it was their brand, their charm. So why shouldn't Trump wreck everything on his way out? Who's going to blame him?

    I don't know whether Trump expects to lose the election. But he's already acting like a deeply embittered man, lashing out at people he feels have treated him unfairly, which is basically everyone. And as usual he reserves special rage for smart, tough women; on Thursday he called Kamala Harris a "monster."

    Yet getting a relief deal would have required accepting a compromise with that "nasty" woman Nancy Pelosi. And it seems that he would rather let the economy burn.

    The thing is, if he's behaving like this now, when he still has some chance of winning, how will he act if he loses?

Eric Levitz: The GOP is sabotaging Trump's economy a month before election day. Here's why. "McConnell can afford to walk away from Covid relief because the Senate's partisan skew tightly limits how many seats his party can lose."

Matthew Yglesias:

Gretchen Whitmer's Close Call

Anna North: "The woman in Michigan": How Gretchen Whitmer became a target of right-wing hate.

Cristina Cabrera: Trump attacks Whitmer after Feds foil plot to kidnap her, complains she hasn't thanked him.

Amy Cooter: Lessons from embedding with the Michigan militia -- 5 questions answered about the group allegedly plotting to kidnap a governor.

Fred Kaplan: The face of American insurgency: "The Michigan plot wasn't about Donald Trump. It goes deeper than that." I advise taking the Trump disclaimer with a bit of salt. Two of the six indicted took part in the anti-lockdown armed occupation of the Michigan State House, which may not have been directed by the White House, but was hinted at in statements both before and after the event.

Andrew Prokop: Charges announced in plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

Robert Snell/Melissa Nann Burke: Plans to kidnap Whitmer, overthrow government spoiled, officials say.


Fabiola Cineas: Tropical depression Delta brings heavy rain and wind to the Gulf Coast. More fair to refer to it as Hurricane Delta. It was a Category 4 in the Caribbean before crossing over the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and grew back to Category 3 in the Gulf of Mexico, before making landing in Louisiana as a Category 2.

Edward-Isaac Dovere: Hillary Clinton says she was right all along: "The biggest factors she blames for her loss -- disinformation, Vladimir Putin, and America's deep political divide -- will still be problems even if Trump loses, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee warns." I'm occasionally tempted to subscribe to The Atlantic, only to find it a bit rich for my taste. Articles like this make me glad I didn't nibble. At this point, who the fuck even cares what she thinks? Let alone thinks about herself!

Dan Friedman: Elliott Broidy, former top Trump fundraiser, will plead guilty to violating foreign lobbying law.

Umair Irfan: California's largest wildfire on record is now a million-acre "gigafire": "The August Complex Fire in North California has now burned an area larger than Rhode Island."

Eric Levitz: Mike Lee opposes democracy -- but supports rule by 'the people'. I don't want to go too deep here, but one should point out that the objectives Lee touts as more important than democracy -- "liberty, peace, and prosperity" -- haven't actually been secured by the Republican antiversion (or perversion) of democracy. The US jails more of its citizens than any other nation, with right-wing Christians especially aggressive at denying and impeding popular rights (except, of course, gun ownership). The US has been constantly at war since 2001, and spent most of the time after 1945 cycling between hot and cold wars. Widespread prosperity has declined considerably since Reagan won in 1980, and the last two Republican presidents ended their terms with major recessions. It's easy enough to understand why Republicans like Lee don't want to let the people decide their own fates, but a superior grasp of liberty, peace, and prosperity isn't a valid reason.

Ilan Pappe: Israel's Peace Process was always a road to nowhere.

Alex Pareene: Would the GOP use Trump's Covid diagnosis to start a war? "Why hawks are determined to blame a foreign enemy for the president's health woes." I rather doubt the thesis, but since Trump not only recovered but decided getting Covid-19 was a blessing, I think we can put these worries aside. Still, it is often the case that when a crisis strikes, the hawks are first to roost -- recall Alexander ("I'm in charge here") Haig when Reagan was shot.

Vijay Prashad/John Ross: Why America's economic war on China is failing.

Zoë Richards: Graham says black people and immigrants can be successful with a caveat: They "just need to be conservative, not liberal." In other words, they need to toil obediently for the rich, eschewing any feelings of solidarity with people like themselves, or the vast majority of Americans. He cited examples, like Sen. Tim Scott and former Gov. Nikki Haley "as people of color who rose to success at least in part due to sharing that state's 'values.'"

Charlie Savage: Nicholson Baker's maddening search for the truth.

Mattathias Schwartz: The FBI team sent to 'exploit' protesters' phones in Portland.

Alex Ward:

Matthew Yglesias:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Two things first: unlike recent weeks, I didn't start collecting links until Sunday afternoon, so this will (or at least should be) shorter than the last six or so record-breaking weeks; also, because I expect several major clusters, I'm going to try something new, and sort nearly everything by subject area (with a miscellaneous at the end, which will mostly hold topics until I decide they've reached critical mass). As a Table of Contents is handy for me, the topics this week are:

I basically stopped collecting links late Sunday night, but held up posting until well into Monday so I could write some introductory remarks. Music Week will also be postposed a day this week. While I wasn't working on Weekend Roundup last week, I made some progress toward a books post. I should finish that mid-week, and may also have a music poll list, and perhaps some answers to reader questions (could use more).

The Covid-19 Pandemic Crashes the White House

Late Thursday evening I was watching Borgen. Laura had gone upstairs, but came down and told me that Trump and Melania had tested positive for Covid-19. My first reaction was to feel sorry for them -- evidently there's still some merit to the old adage about not wishing some misfortunes on your worst enemy. That was followed by considerable unease about the fate of the world. Might his illness elicit a wave of sympathy? Or maybe just forgetting of the awful things he's done, let alone the hideous person he has shown himself to be? Or maybe he dies, and Pence reaps the sympathy vote, either as a blank slate or Trump's "better angel"? (Someone believed capable of delivering on the many promises Trump bungled?) Whatever else happens, it is more imperative than ever to vote for Joe Biden and Democrats down the ticket.

I decided then not to bother collecting this week's links until the dust settled down a bit. It soon turned out that Trump is still Trump, and Republicans are still Republicans. Laura spent the next few days watching Fox News, relishing how desperate they were wrap their brains around the news, looking to spin it into their usual propaganda, and coming up with very little. (I tried googling a phrase they used to suggest that people were laughing at Trump's misfortune, but couldn't find it -- perhaps remembering it wrong.)

My own sense of perspective was helped by watching Jimmy Kimmel on Friday night, who did a nice job of expressing concern for the Trumps' health while pointing out the context in which their illness was contracted and spread. When I finally started collecting the links below, I found many pieces highly critical of Trump's attitude as well as his handling of the pandemic, including ones which assigned a fair share of blame directly on Trump. I didn't find evidence of gloating or schadenfreude (although the latter was reportedly the most looked-up word at Merriam-Webster Dictionary over the weekend).

Moments ago I heard Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) insisting that Covid-19 just isn't that dangerous, much as Trump himself has done. Today's Covid in the US death count is 209,690, with 7.4 million cases. Intelligencer has a pretty extensive news roll on Trump's Covid-19 case. The plan is to return him to the White House Monday evening, which may sound like he's out of the woods, but is not anything like you or me getting sent home from hospital.

Lest you think Trump might have learned something from the illness, here's his tweet:

I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!

Assuming he doesn't relapse, he's promising to return even more dangerous than he's been so far.

Eliza Barclay: Trump's refusal to wear a face mask is a catastrophe.

Julia Belluz: Is Trump sicker than his doctors are saying? His treatment regimen raises questions. Isn't there an old joke about doctors examining your wallet before your body? The one clear thing is that the doctors are sparing no expense in treating Trump. What's less clear is whether all that attention, especially with the experimental treatments, will help him. But even if it does, don't expect to get the same care or attention. Health care is as inequal and unfair as any other aspect of America.

Philip Bump:

Isaac Chotiner: Maggie Haberman on the fallout from Trump's hospitalization. As you probably know, Haberman covers the White House for the New York Times.

Atul Gawande: Controlling the pandemic is the first step toward rescuing a failed system.

Susan B Glasser: "There is zero reason to panic": On Trump's coronavirus case and the shredded credibility of his White House: "A report from Day One after the President's diagnosis."

Fred Hiatt: Only the Trump team could spin this into even riskier messaging about the virus.

Umair Irfan: Trump was tested regularly for Covid-19. He wanted less testing for everyone else.

Jennifer Jacobs/Josh Wingrove: Trump kept regular schedule after learning close aide Hope Hicks had Covid.

Peter Kafka: Who will tell us the truth about Trump's health? "We know it won't be Trump."

Dhruv Khullar: How to understand Trump's evolving condition: "Day to day, the news can be confusing. But the treatment of COVID-19 has steps, phases, and milestones that can tells us a lot about how the President is doing." There's a lot here, but this paragraph caught my eye:

Because of the scary mortality statistics, the discussion of the President's illness has often had mortal stakes. The truth, though, is that there's a vast middle ground of survival, in which patients can beat the virus only to experience residual symptoms and, in some cases, ongoing physical or cognitive deficits. For many COVID-19 patients -- even those who never move beyond the first phase of the disease -- problems such as fatigue and shortness of breath can linger for weeks or months. The risks are much higher for those with severe illness, especially those who end up in the I.C.U. Some patients who recover from COVID-19 report fatigue, headaches, memory issues, and breathing and gastrointestinal problems for months after their initial symptoms. Surviving illness and returning to good health are not one and the same.

Jen Kirby: 3 of the world's most powerful Covid-19 deniers have gotten the virus: "Like Trump, at points in their tenure, the UK's Boris Johnson and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro both downplayed the virus."

German Lopez:

Amanda Marcotte: Trump has COVID-19: More evidence that he's always put his ego ahead of public health: "Relax -- Donny SuperSpreader can't benefit from catching a virus he has claimed affects 'virtually nobody.'"

Tina Nguyen: 'God-tier genetics': A stunned MAGA world offers blame, adulation after Trump's diagnosis.

Anna North: 10 facts about school reopenings in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Olivia Nuzzi/Ben Jacobs: The White House is spreading virus and lies.

Charles P Pierce: The chaos has to stop with the President's doctors: Reason I linked this is the photo. Evidently it takes 10 doctors (well, people in white lab coats) to give a confusing and probably misleading press conference on Trump's medical status.

Andrew Prokop: What happens if the president is too sick to do the job? "The 25th Amendment, explained."

Brian Resnick: Was the White House reception for Amy Coney Barrett a superspreading event?: "The event is at least a stark example of what not to do during a pandemic."

Brian Resnick/Julia Belluz: How the White House became a coronavirus breeding ground.

Benjamin Rosenberg: Everyone in the White House cluster who has said they tested positive for the coronavirus:

  • President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump
  • Hope Hicks, senior counselor to President Trump
  • Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary
  • Chad Gilmartin, McEnany's aide; at least one other McEnany aide
  • US Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah
  • US Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina
  • Kellyanne Conway, former senior White House counselor
  • Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager
  • Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor
  • Nicholas Luna, an assistant to President Trump
  • John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame
  • Three journalists from the White House press corps, according to the White House Correspondents Association
  • A White House press staffer, according to the correspondents' association

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel have also recently tested positive, although they did not appear to have close contact with White House officials last week.

Dylan Scott: While Trump gets the best health care in the world, he wants to eliminate coverage for millions: "Trump's positive coronavirus test underscores the stakes of his fight against Obamacare." I'm not so sure about "the best" but he's certainly getting the most expensive health care in the world.

Dylan Scott/Christina Animashaun: Covid-19's stunningly unequal death toll in America, in one chart. "Black Americans are dying at twice the rate of white Americans."

Dan Spinelli: Trump's doctor just admitted he lied to stay "upbeat." He's still leaving big questions unanswered.

Matt Stieb: The White House is failing to contact trace its own outbreak.

Peter Weber: The October Surprise nobody wanted.

Richard Wolfe: We should wish Trump well. But he's been astoundingly irresponsible at every turn. But isn't blaming people for the consequences of poor lifestyle choices something conservatives do?

Patricia Kelly Yeo: COVID-positive Trump ignores CDC advise to take joyride, with grim Secret Service agents in tow: "The president left Walter Reed's presidential suite in a motorcade to wave to supporters, potentially exposing several Secret Service agents to the coronavirus." And yes, there are pictures. Wasn't that the whole point? By the way, this is another instance of how Trump is getting special treatment. Who else sick enough to be in hospital would be allowed a temporary pass for a publicity appearance? More:

Matthew Yglesias: Trump has consistently mocked adherence to public health guidelines.

As recently as Tuesday's presidential debate, for example, Trump mocked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for his heavy mask usage, saying, "I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask," and that Biden "could be speaking 200 feet away" and then "shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen." . . .

The president from May to June to September has not only ignored public health guidelines by holding large campaign events, at which few people wear masks or socially distance; and he's gone out of his way to mock Biden for spending too much time "in his basement" adhering to the rules. Even the death of Herman Cain from Covid-19, which he contracted after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, did not alter the president's attitude.

The Trump-Biden Debate

The first debate between Trump and Biden was held on Tuesday, moderated by Chris Wallace. It was by all accounts a pretty ugly affair.

Vox (Matthew Yglesias, German Lopez, Alex Ward, Li Zhou, Zack Beauchamp): 3 winners and 4 losers from the 2020 presidential debate. Format rules evidently prevent them from scoring it 7-0 Biden, so they sorted it by issue: Winners: Cross-talk and malarkey; China; Speaking directly to the American people. Losers: The "Biden has dementia" theory; Racial justice; Chris Wallace; America's safety. Yglesias followed up with Exclusive poll: Biden won the debate convincingly.

Zack Beauchamp:

Fabiola Cineas: Trump was asked to denounce white supremacy. He wouldn't.

Jane Coaston: The Trump campaign spent months portraying Biden as senile. That might be a mistake.

Megan Day: Donald Trump endorsed right-wing violence during the debate.

Matt Ford: Trump never answered the debate's most important question: "Let there be no 'both-sidesing' of the primary cause of American anxiety."

Ben Jacobs: 'Just putrid': GOP insiders texted me their honest feelings about the debate.

Ed Kilgore: So how do the polls look after that hellscape of a debate?

Jen Kirby: Vote-by-mail is not full of fraud, despite Trump's debate claims.

Ezra Klein: Joe Biden's most surprising, and possibly important, answer of the debate: "Biden disavowed a lot of ambitious progressive policies on Tuesday. But there were two he refused to reject." He refused to commit on ending the Senate filibuster or "packing the Court," saying "Whatever position I take on that, that will become the issue."

Robert Kuttner: Biden: Notes for next time.

Eric Levitz:

  • 5 reasons Joe Biden (probably) won the first debate. These don't sound to me like very reassuring reasons:

    1. Biden did not appear to be suffering from literal dementia.
    2. The president's strategy for winning over suburban moderates was, apparently, to align himself with the Proud Boys, threaten to disregard election results, and make obscure references to minor events from the Fox News Cinematic Universe.
    3. Trump lost the "law and order" argument.
    4. Trump delivered Biden's populist, class resentment message for him.
    5. A tie goes to the guy who's winning by 7 points.
  • Even Trump's base found his debate performance off-putting.

  • 3 reasons catching coronavirus could be bad for Trump politically:

    1. The president's ailment is likely to heighten the salience of an issue Biden owns.
    2. Making Joe Biden's gaffes, or son, or "socialism" into a top news story before Election Day just got a lot harder
    3. There is little reason to believe Trump will enjoy a "sympathy surge."

German Lopez: The reviews are in: The first presidential debate was a disaster.

Steve M: After the debate, right-wingers are clapping louder.

Harold Meyerson: Four more years of this jerk? "Trump does his re-election campaign no favors."

John Nichols: Joe Biden should propose a $75 tax credit tonight -- then drop the mic: This is the week's dumbest piece of debate advice. Why $750? Just so Trump can reduce his tax burden to $0? While a lot of people could use a tax credit, pegging it to a number that Trump somehow hit on twice is meaningless outside of a few twitter circles. And drop the mic? Who even knows what that means? QED is more recognizable. Plus having a 77-year-old drop a microphone may suggest something other than a definitive dis.

Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden smashed his single-hour fundraising record after the first presidential debate.

Frank Rich: Should the first presidential debate also be the last?

Aaron Rupar: 3 debate moments that showed how unsuited Trump is for the presidency: "Don't let Trump's debate bullying distract you from his ignorance and malevolence."

Dylan Scott: If Trump wins, 20 million people could lose health insurance. If Biden wins, 25 million could gain it. "The enormous stakes for Americans' health insurance in the 2020 election, explained."

Alex Shephard: The right is blaming Chris Wallace for Trump's terrible debate performance.

Kristin Urquiza: I saw in the front row at the debate. Did Trump infect me with the coronavirus?

Steven Waldman: Actually, it was a good debate. Seriously.

Debates should help voters make their decisions. This one provided a deluge of useful information.

Journalists are sometimes criticized for not 'nailing' the subjects that they interview. That misunderstands the journalist's role. The job is often to reveal not rebut. If I'm really honest, I have to admit that when I do interviews, especially for print publications, I will intentionally let subjects continue to say stupid or offensive things, without challenge -- because that is far more revealing than if I pointed out their stupidity and thereby prompted them to clarify.

I feel the same way about debates. The point is not to catch the candidates; it's to reveal them. In that sense, this was the best debate in modern American history.

Other Aspects of the Campaign and Elections

Most of this week's campaign stories were tied to topics above, but a few slipped into this section, as did the dystopian speculation about election shenanigans and what happens as and after the ballots are counted. I've generally been avoiding stories on polling, also on down-ballot races (even the very important battle over the Senate). I did flag one piece on the Kansas senatorial race, because it's rare a local race from my home state gets national attention. It also looks like the Senate races in Georgia and South Carolina are tightening up. Also included the bizarre Brad Parscale story here. I'm surprised there's not much more on it, as it suggests unplumbed depths of dementia and violence in the campaign. Also note that Parscale's replacement as head of the Trump campaign, Bill Stepien, is on the list of White House Covid-19 victims. Trump will have no shortage of people to blame for losing this year.

Jane Coaston: The Proud Boys, explained: "The far-right street fighting group has embraced violence -- and Donald Trump." More on Proud Boys:

Eric Cortellessa: Republicans are slowing down mailed-in vote counts in key swing states.

David Dayen: The winter of our discontent: "Projecting the 78 harrowing days after the election: "This is a horror story."

Shirin Ghaffary: Democratic Party leaders are "banging their head against the wall" after private meetings with Facebook on election misinformation.

Constance Grady: The bizarrely aggressive rhetoric of Trump's fundraising emails, explained: "Rhetoric scholars explain why Trump's campaign emails feel like someone is yelling at you."

But Trump emails are unusual in just how aggressive and bullying they are to their recipients, to the point that they've been called out as such by both the left and the right. There's an entire Twitter account devoted to documenting their extravagancies, and scrolling through them is roughly analogous to the experience of having someone scream, "Why haven't you paid the money yet, you jerk?" in your face at top volume for 10 minutes at a time.

"I want to know who stood with me when it mattered most, so I've asked my team to send me a list of EVERY AMERICAN PATRIOT who donates to this email," warns one email signed by Trump that went out after the first presidential debate Tuesday night. "I need you right now. You stood by my side throughout the 2016 Election, and I need to know you'll be by my side once again in November."

Charlotte Klein: Texas Governor orders ballot drop-off locations closed across state.

Nancy LeTourneau: This woman could be the first Democratic Senator from Kansas since 1932. She means 1938: Democrat George McGill was elected to finish a term in 1930, then re-elected to a full term in 1932. Barbara Bollier is running for an open seat being vacated by Pat Roberts, who nearly lost to an independent six years ago. She's an ex-Republican, which plays well in Kansas, a woman (Nancy Kassebaum won three Senate terms), has quite a bit of money, and is running against Roger Marshall (like Roberts, an agribusiness shill from Western Kansas).

Aaron Rupar:

Walter Shapiro: Biden should be worried: "Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis has scrambled the presidential race irrevocably." Everyone's worried, but the spread between Trump's best-ever and worst-ever days is about four points, so the main thing Biden has to be worried about is doing something stupid, and even then we're talking about doing something stupider than Trump has already done.

Gabriel Sherman: "The family is worried Brad will start talking": Trumpworld panics over debate fiasco as campaign turmoil mounts: Any other week this story would have been huge, as Trump's digital guru and recently deposed campaign manager staged a public meltdown, threatening to kill himself, before he was subdued and carted off by police.

As the Times story lit up cable news and Twitter, news broke that Trump's former campaign manager Brad Parscale had been taken into custody outside his Ft. Lauderdale home and hospitalized after threatening to commit suicide and allegedly beating his wife days prior. Police body camera footage showing an officer brutally tackling a shirtless, 6'8" Parscale to the pavement instantly became a visual metaphor for the chaos engulfing the Trump campaign. One campaign adviser I spoke with was shocked by the amount of force the police used to subdue and cuff Parscale. "If Brad had been Black, there would be riots all over the country," the source said. (In fact, police have killed unarmed Black men in far less hostile situations.)

Parscale's public meltdown happened while he is reportedly under investigation for stealing from the Trump campaign and the RNC. According to the source close to the campaign, the Trump family is worried that Parscale could turn on them and cooperate with law enforcement about possible campaign finance violations. "The family is worried Brad will start talking," the source said.

More on Parscale:

Nate Silver: Trump's chances are dwindling. That could make him dangerous.

Kelly Well: Trump's crew of far-right vigilante poll watchers is coming.

Still More on Donald Trump and Family

Last week's big New York Times exposé on The President's taxes continued to produce revelations and reaction. "Lock him up" may not yet be a campaign chant, but is on the minds of more than a few prosecutors.

Helena Bottemiller Evich: Trump requires food aid boxes to come with a letter from him: "'In my 30 years of doing this work, I've never seen something this egregious,' one food bank director said."

Molly Jong-Fast: Donald Junior's Hunter Biden obsession is creepy, and telling.

Dylan Matthews: Here's how much you had to make in 2017 to pay more income tax than Donald Trump.

Casey Michel: Ivanka Trump's starring role in her father's financial troubles: "If the president's tax shenanigans land him afoul of the law, the first daughter could go down with him."

Anna North: The Melania tapes bust the "Free Melania" myth: "Turns out the first lady is a lot like her husband."

Andrew Prokop:

Luke Savage: Attacking Trump as a "fake billionaire" is a dead end: "The real scandal isn't that Donald Trump is secretly poor -- it's that our system let such an obvious fraud get so rich."

Matthew Yglesias: Trump could be in a lot of legal hot water if he loses the election: "The presidency shields him from charges of tax fraud, campaign finance violations, obstruction, and more." Details a long list of just the most obvious potential charges and liabilities, concluding:

This is all relevant context to the president's various musings about how a "ballot scam" may give him reason to refuse to concede defeat in November. Nobody likes to lose. But Trump has reasons that go far beyond pride, bad manners, or even lust for power.

Supreme Court, and Other Injustices

Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is still up in the air, as Republicans in the Senate plot to confirm her before the election. Although the biggest twist this week was that a promotional meet and greet for her looms large in the White House Covid-19 cluster outbreak. Also a few other stories relating to justice and not.

Erwin Chemerinsky: The Court: How did we get here and what will it mean?

Fabiola Cineas: Kentucky AG releases Breonna Taylor grand jury audio recordings. More on Breonna Taylor:

Eleanor Clift: Donald Trump might lose, but his judges will keep wrecking America for years to come.

Adam Cole: The Supreme Court is about to hit an undemocratic milestone. The US Senate accords two votes per state, regardless of population, so it is possible to form a majority of Senators who represent only a minority of the population. Indeed, four Supreme Court justices have been confirmed by minority-vote Senators (Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh). If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will probably be the fifth.

Patrick Radden Keefe: The Sackler family's plan to keep its billions: "The Trump administration is poised to make a settlement with Purdue Pharma that it can claim as a victory for opioid victims. But the proposed outcome would heave the company's owners enormously wealthy -- and off the hook for good."

Dahlia Lithwick: The deranged, dangerous push to still seat Amy Coney Barrett: "For the GOP, entrenching minority rule is more important than human life."

Ian Millhiser:

Ella Nilsen: Amy Coney Barrett's Judiciary Committee hearing is still on, despite the Senate recess.

David Sirota: The US Supreme Court may soon become plutocracy's greatest defender. Isn't it already? Not that it's needed as long as Trump is president and McConnell runs the Senate.

Paul Starr: How to rebalance the Supreme Court.

The Economy

Meanwhile, the economy churns, as some people return to work, but others are getting laid off -- especially as the earlier stimulus program job protections have expired. There appears to have been a little progress toward a compromise on a new relief bill, but now that the stock market has recovered, that's not much of a priority for Senate Republicans.

Josh Barro: What the disappointing final jobs report before the election tells us about the economy.

Timothy Noah: Trump's "greatest recovery in history" is wheezing out.

Emily Stewart:

  • The K-shaped economic recovery, explained.

    Basically, wealthier people and those with white-collar jobs are doing fairly well during this -- their jobs are sticking around, they're cutting some spending, and life is generally fine. Stockholders' wealth is even going up.

    But for less well-off Americans and people who have lost their jobs, it's different. The stock market isn't helping them, and for those who are unemployed, expanded unemployment benefits dried up at the end of July. With Congress not in a particular hurry to provide fiscal support, that means a drag on the economy.

  • The false hope of reopening is killing small businesses. Restaurants have been especially hard hit. For example, in the news today: Brookville Hotel to close its doors for good. The Martin family has owned the famous fried chicken restaurant for 125 years. It was already a big deal when I first went there as a child. The one year I didn't cook birthday dinner we drove 100 miles each way to eat there. We didn't go often, and haven't considered it in several years, but it was always a treat, and always full up.


Umair Irfan: Why we're more confident than ever that climate change is driving disasters.

German Lopez:

Jane Mayer: The secret history of Kimberly Guilfoyle's departure from fox.

JC Pan: Our plutocratic tax system was built for rich cheaters: "The Times exposé was a blunt articulation of how things work for people like Trump -- and against everyone else."

Kaila Philo: Noam Chomsky does not think the planet is doomed (yet). Interview, on a new book Chomsky co-wrote with Robert Pollin: Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal.

Kelsey Piper: Extreme poverty is getting worse across the globe for the first time in decades.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Well, it's official now: as of September 22, 200,000 Americans are now confirmed dead from Covid-19. For more:

Let's start with overflow from the Supreme Court crisis, opened up by the death last week of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some articles came out in anticipation, but it's now official: Trump selects Amy Coney Barrett to Fill Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court:

  • Zack Beauchamp: RBG, the 2020 election, and the rolling crisis of American democracy.

  • Daniel Block: Packing the court might work. Threatening to pack it did. Reviews Franklin Roosevelt's 1937 court packing proposal, which was ill-fated in the sense that it didn't get passed. But under pressure, the Supreme Court stopped invalidating major New Deal legislation, and gradually Roosevelt's appointees took over the Court. Block emphasizes similarities between now and 1937, but I'm more struck by two key differences: FDR and his Democrats had a huge electoral mandate after the 1936 election, whereas the most Biden can hope for is a slim majority; and while the majority on the 1930s Supreme Court was casually selected from upper class conservatives, the Trump Court is stocked with card-carrying Federalist Society cult members -- not just predisposed to right-wing sentiments but selected and cultivated for them.

  • Ryan Bort: GOP scores huge victory over democracy, integrity as Trump announces pick to replace RBG.

  • Katelyn Burns: How Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court could affect LGBTQ rights.

  • John Cassidy: Trump's selection of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court is part of a larger antidemocratic project.

  • Igor Derysh: Mitch McConnell rams through six Trump judges in 30 hours after blocking coronavirus aid for months.

  • Garrett Epps: Amy Coney Barrett's stare decisis problem -- and ours.

  • Burgess Everett: Republicans prep lightning-quick Supreme Court confirmation.

  • Noah Feldman: Amy Coney Barrett deserves to be on the Supreme Court: "I disagree with Trump's judicial nominee on almost everything. But I still think she's brilliant." I doubt Feldman, a Harvard law professor and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice David Souter, wrote that headline. He does say that she's brilliant, and can be expected to produce carefully reasoned opinions -- "even if I disagree with her all the way." I find that degree of legalistic wiggle room disturbing. Note that this post bleeds into another unrelated one of interest: Timothy L O'Brien: Elections aren't the only things Trump thinks are rigged: "It's always somebody else's fault when things turn against him." By the way, another friend of Barrett's has chipped in: O Carter Snead: I've known Amy Coney Barrett for 15 years. Liberals have nothing to fear. I recall similar pieces popping up as soon as Cavanaugh got nominated. All nominees come with PR machines paving the way. Sooner or later we'll discover that millions of dollars have been raised to promote this and other nominations. And thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings, it will be impossible to establish criminal culpability when the new Justice rewards her benefactors.

  • Matt Ford: Amy Coney Barrett wants felons to have guns, but not votes.

  • Constance Grady: The false link between Amy Coney Barrett and The Handmaid's Tale, explained.

  • Sarah Jones:

    • American women need a revolution. It has to be bigger than RBG. Most memorable line here, about Ginsburg's "improbable" friendship with Antonin Scalia: "There's no ethical disagreement so profound that a shared class position can't bridge it." How much harder is it to form an ethical bridge over a class difference?

    • Amy Coney Barrett and the triumph of Phyllis Schlafly.

      As embraced by jurists like Barrett and her old boss, Antonin Scalia, originalism is its own dogma; the extension of a political theology committed to an older and more exclusionary version of America.

      Barrett understands all that. She's exactly as intelligent as her advocates say, and she's made all her choices with a sound mind. Her reward is power. If she's confirmed by the Senate, she'll be able to finish what Schlafly once started. She could help lock in Trump for another four years. She'll be able to deal democracy and yes, the feminist movement the blows the Christian right has dreamed of landing for years.

  • Noah Lanard: Amy Coney Barrett will strip millions of health insurance.

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Meet the man who vets Trump's Supreme Court picks: Leonard Leo, of the Federalist Society. I've long found it peculiar how Republicans invariably wind up appointing conservative Catholics to the Court -- are Protestants, who long held sway but lately have become virtually extinct, too inclined to respect people as individuals?

    You might call it a coincidence that Leo is Catholic and all of the Supreme Court justices he has been involved with since the 1990s have been Catholic -- with the exception of Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but attended an Episcopal church after he married an Anglican. At this point, the two women who appear to be in contention for nomination by Trump (and put forward by Leo and the Federalist Society) are also Catholic. What is of concern, however, is not their religion, but how it influences their view of the role of the courts. For example, while a professor at Notre Dame, Barrett said that a "legal career is but a means to an end . . . and that end is building the Kingdom of God."

    For more on Leo, see: Robert O Harrow Jr/Shawn Boburg: A conservative activist's behind-the-scenes campaign to remake the nation's courts.
  • Eric Levitz:

    • Dems should turn Barrett hearings into an anti-GOP informercial. We've seen at least some of this starting, especially with the ACA case:

      This said, Democrats may be well-advised to make the ACA their number-one issue in the confirmation fight. The conservative legal challenges to Obamacare don't just constitute an attempt to strip millions of potentially life-saving insurance subsidies, or change health-care policy in a toxically unpopular manner; it also represents an assault on democracy itself. The American people's democratically elected representatives entertained the question of whether this law should exist twice, first in 2009 and then in 2017. The verdict is clear. The unpopularity of the conservative alternative is unmistakable. Nevertheless, the right has refused to take the electorate's "no" for an answer, and is now seeking to use its influence over the judiciary to override the will of the people. In this way, the Obamacare case conveniently weds the threat that Trump poses to the material interests of working people with the threat he poses to democracy itself.

      Democrats may have no real chance of blocking Barrett's confirmation. But the Senate's hearings will provide the party an opportunity to clarify the stakes of the impending vote that they can still win.

    • Would court packing be too slippery a slope? I think it's premature to talk about it. People need to understand two things: it's not such a radical idea; and it's necessitated by the Supreme Court's obstruction of popular and necessary policies. A good start would be to refer to Trump's appointments as "packing the Court" -- that is clearly the intention, and it's been happening for some time (a deliberate effort to install partisan ideologues, especially relatively young ones, to build up a long-lasting right-wing majority, and use that to radically change laws, subverting the normal processes of democracy). You can also start pointing out how this "packed" right-wing court has already broken with established norms to further their partisan schemes (e.g., campaign bribery = free speech, unlimited gun rights, allowing voting discrimination).

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Trump kept the quiet part quiet about Amy Coney Barrett: In his announcement, Trump "stayed mum about the real reason he needs her."

    As has been noted many times over this past week, the GOP has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections and yet appointed 15 out of the last 19 justices. Barrett would make that 16 out of 20 seats. And that is why the people most assuredly cannot be allowed to decide the future of reproductive freedom, the future of health care, or even whether and how their own ballots will be counted in just over a month. Trump cannot talk about those things because they will further harm his own polling and will also reflect badly on GOP senators who pledged to vote for the nominee before they even knew whom she would be. They cannot talk about those things because minority rule doesn't poll as well in the U.S. as it does in, say, Hungary or medieval France. But minority rule is on the ballot. It may well be the only thing on the ballot. Because if, as the president promises, his independent justice needs to be seated to decide whose ballots count, this isn't merely a commitment to entrench unpopular, dangerous, and partisan policies into constitutional law. It's also a commitment to commandeering the high court itself into deciding whether and how to count votes, in an election in which a sitting president has already pledged that only some voters will be allowed to pick the winner.

  • Dylan Matthews:

  • Barbara McQuade: Amy Coney Barrett is even more extreme than Antonin Scalia.

  • Ian Millhiser:

  • Nicole Narea: Amy Coney Barrett has a years-long record of ruling against immigrants.

  • Ella Nilsen: How the coming fight over Ginsburg's SCOTUS replacement could shape the Senate elections.

  • Anna North: What Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court would mean for abortion rights.

  • Molly Olmstead: Conservatives are already playing up hypothetical anti-Catholic bias against Amy Coney Barrett: Because we all know how concerned conservatives are when it comes to prejudice against minorities? I'm old enough to remember the old protestant prejudice against Catholics -- my grandmother was a prime example -- but Catholics back then (like John Kennedy) disarmed the prejudice by emphasizing tolerance and the separation of church and state, not by forcing their most arcane beliefs on their subjects, as Barrett seems to want to do.

  • Alex Pareene: McConnell will sacrifice anything to fill Ginsburg's seat -- even his Senate majority.

  • Kim Phillips-Fein: Is Amy Coney Barrett joining a Supreme Court built for the wealthy? "Future decisions by a very conservative majority could give corporations even more weight and workers less."

  • Joe Pinsker: RBG's fingerprints are all over your everyday life.

  • David Rohde: A dangerous moment for the Supreme Court. Can we start referring to the Federalist Society as a cult?

    Trump and McConnell now stand poised to create a conservative majority on the Court that could last decades. The moment marks a triumph for the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian legal group that has worked since the nineteen-eighties to recruit ultra-conservative lawyers to serve as judges. Republicans face a potential backlash in November, but a dramatic and historic change in American democracy and jurisprudence is under way that could vastly increase the power of the Presidency, corporations, and the wealthy, and curtail, or bring to an end, abortion rights, Obamacare, and expansive voting rights.

  • Shaskar Sunkara: 'Scranton v Park Avenue' is Biden's best campaign issue -- not the Supreme Court. He has a point, but as Yglesias points out below, the two are not unrelated. The Supreme Court in itself is unlikely to persuade anyone who isn't already committed, but it doesn't hurt to point to the Republicans' hypocrisy viz. 2016, to the naked power grab, to the packing of the court with Federalist Society cultists. Also, the most immediately tangible case before the Supreme Court is a suit to throw out all of Obamacare on the thinest of technicalities, and Barrett could be the vote that decides to strip health insurance from millions of people. Still, the overriding issue of the election is the conflict between one party which blindly serves an unaccountable, unelected oligarchy and another party which at least recognizes and is accountable to the vast majority of Americans. Since winning elections depends on building a majority coalition, that seems like the obvious point to make.

  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: The case for ending the Supreme Court as we know it.

  • Jeffrey Toobin: There should be no doubt why Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett.

    Still, it's worth remembering the real priorities of Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, in this nomination. They're happy to accommodate the anti-abortion base of the Republican Party, but an animating passion of McConnell's career has been the deregulation of political campaigns. The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision brought the issue to wide public attention, but McConnell has been crusading about it for decades. He wants the money spigot kept open, so that he can protect his Senate majority and the causes for which it stands. This, too, is why the Federalist Society has been so lavishly funded over the years, and why it has expanded from a mere campus organization into a national behemoth for lawyers and students. Under Republican Presidents, Federalist Society events have come to operate as auditions for judicial appointments. The corporate interests funding the growth of the Federalist Society probably weren't especially interested in abortion, but they were almost certainly committed to crippling the regulatory state.

    Barrett is a product of this movement, and not just because she clerked for Scalia. Her writings and early rulings reflect it. Her financial-disclosure form shows that, in recent years, she has received about seven thousand dollars in honoraria from the Federalist Society and went on ten trips funded by it. But it's not as if Barrett was bought; she was already sold. The judge has described herself as a "textualist" and an "originalist" -- the same words of legal jargon that were associated with Scalia. (She believes in relying on the specific meaning of the words in statutes, not on legislators' intent. She interprets the Constitution according to her belief in what the words meant when the document was ratified, not what the words mean now.) But these words are abstractions. In the real world, they operate as an agenda to crush labor unions, curtail environmental regulation, constrain the voting rights of minorities, limit government support for health care, and free the wealthy to buy political influence.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Supreme Court's role in economic policy, explained. Reminds us that the point of having a conservative majority on the Supreme Court is less to legislate from the bench than to veto efforts by Congress and the Executive to implement changes that regulate business, regardless of how popular those changes may be.

    It's a nice vision, in my opinion, and also a vision of a world in which the courts play a smaller role in the political process. It is not the way American politics works. When Alfred Stepan and Juan Linz surveyed the United States and 22 other peer nations to see how many electorally generated veto points each country had, they found the US to be a huge outlier. More than half their sample had just one elected body that could block policy change -- a parliamentary majority. Seven had two veto players. France often had one, sometimes two, but since then has tweaked its rules to ensure that it's always one. Switzerland and Australia had three. And the United States had four.

    Which is just to say it's really, really hard to change the law in America. In their magisterial work Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why, Frank Baumgartner and his co-authors find something superficially encouraging -- it's not the case that the side with more money backing it normally wins in Congress. The reason, however, is less encouraging. It simply turns out that there are so many veto points in the US political system that the status quo almost always wins. What the increasingly active conservative courts do, under the guise of aw-shucks balls and strikes refereeing, is essentially introduce yet another veto player into the system.

  • Li Zhou: Senate Republicans were always going to do whatever they wanted with the Supreme Court vacancy: "Their actions are deeply hypocritical -- but unsurprising."

Some scattered links on other topics this week:

Bethany Albertson: Trump's appeals to white anxiety are not "dog whistles" -- they're racism. That's because Trump's no whistler. He's the dog. He isn't the leader of the Republican Party. He's just a guy who watches too much Fox News, but because he has money and has spent his whole adult life seeking fame, he's come to represent all the little people whose prejudices and fears and psychoses he embodies.

Zeeshan Aleem: Half of Americans who lost their job during the pandemic still don't have one.

Anne Applebaum: The complicity of Republican leaders in support of an immoral and dangerous president.

Associated Press: Trump and Nixon were pen pals in the '80s. Here are their letters. Just to creep you out, from the original CREEP.

Zack Beauchamp: The Republican Party is an authoritarian outlier: "Compared to center-right parties in developed democracies, the GOP is dangerously far from normal."

Hannah Beech: 'I feel sorry for Americans': A baffled world watches the US: "From Myanmar to Canada, people are asking: How did a superpower allow itself to be felled by a virus? And why won't the president commit to a peaceful transition of power?" The answer to both questions is hubris: the latter specifically by Donald Trump, the former much more generally. Even the Soviet Bloc, with nothing we recognize as democracy, generally allowed a peaceful transfer of power. (As Jeffrey St Clair mentions, in the piece below, the exception was in Romania, where Ceaucescu's generals took the leader out into a field and shot him, then outlawed capital punishment.) The US used to be better regarded, even more generously than was really deserved, but in the late 1940s Truman decided to kick the Soviet Union out of the coalition that had won WWII, and to direct US foreign policy against communists, socialists, labor unions, and anti-colonial resistance everywhere. When the Soviet Bloc collapsed, Washington doubled down on its economic program to impose capitalist austerity everywhere. Where Republicans differed from Democrats was in their insistence on treating their own folk as shabbily as the rest of the world. Trump's only innovation to this Washington Consensus was to stop pretending that the "medicine" was good for others. His vision is a world of oligarchs who can buy and sell whole countries. His "America First" is really just Trump First. Otherwise, if he really represented a system or a party, he wouldn't cling to power so desperately.

Julia Belluz: 156 countries are teaming up for a Covid-19 vaccine. But not the US or China. Interview with Seth Berkley, of "Vaccine Alliance, one of the partners behind Covax."

Russ Buettner/Susanne Craig/Mike McIntire: The President's taxes: Long-concealed records show Trump's chronic losses and years of tax avoidance: "The Times obtained Donald Trump's tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due." Major article, although it's still far short of what a full public release of Trump's tax records might show. Side articles: Charting an empire: A timeline of Trump's finances; 18 revelations from a trove of Trump tax records; An editor's note on the Trump tax investigation. For more:

Laura Bult: How the US keeps poor people from accessing abortion.

Katelyn Burns: Trump says he won't commit to leaving office if he loses the election because of a "ballot scam". I'm growing weary of repeatedly asking Trump about whether he'd agree to "a peaceful transition of power" if he loses the election. It should be obvious by now that his repeated refusals signify two things: he doesn't believe that elections in the US are fair, not least because he's spending a lot of effort and money in scamming them for his own benefit; and underlying that, he clearly doesn't believe that fair and open democratic processes are valuable in their own right. When Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 conceded, despite receiving more votes than Bush or Trump, they were showing their respect for a flawed but established democratic system. Trump has no such respect. He probably regards Gore and Clinton as suckers and losers for rolling over so easily. In contrast, he wants to appear tough, as someone who will fight for his beliefs down to the last technicality -- his dedication is something his supporters love about him, whereas the willingness of Democrats to back away from power fights has made them look weak and indecisive. Nor is this just Trump being his authoritarian bad self. Republicans have signalled their contempt for democracy for decades ago, as they've exploited every imbalance and loophole available to them to secure power far beyond their numbers. Indeed, their agenda is so tailored to narrow (and unpopular) special interests that it's hard to see how they could prevail in fair and open elections. (Indeed, it's easy to find instances where Republicans admit as much.) Still, I think a large part of Trump's refusal to say something as obvious as "of course, if I lose I'll respect the law" is that he feels obligated to project confidence in his electability -- especially given that polling has consistently shown him to be way behind. Muddying the waters, casting suspicion on the integrity of voting, is one of the few ways he can gain credibility for his campaign, even if it's as likely as not to backfire on him. Given all the horrors of the last four years, given his manifest ineptness for the job, given the malevolence of his administration, he should have no chance to win a second term. Yet your uncertainty just goes to show that his ploy is working. But it also adds to the sense of how ominously he looms over the future of the country, and how much of a toll even recognizing him as a legitimate political figure is taking from our psyches. [BTW: I previously wrote more on this, see Rupar below, which includes additional links on post-election worries.]

Jonathan Chait:

John Cassidy: Trump is attacking American democracy at its core.

Fabiola Cineas:

Adam Clark Estes/Rebecca Heilweil: The most dangerous conspiracy theory in 2020 isn't about blood-sucking pedophiles: "QAnon is scary, but misinformation about voter fraud poses a bigger and more immediate threat to democracy."

Susan B Glasser: Here are twenty other disturbing, awful things that Trump has said this month, and it's not over yet.

Eric Goldwyn: Costly lessons from the Second Avenue Subway.

Thom Hartmann: Trump's destruction of America started with Ronald Reagan: "Why Reaganism needs to be ripped out by the root."

Umair Irfan: Scientists fear the Western wildfires could lead to long-term lung damage.

Malaika Jabali: Joe Biden is repeating the same mistakes that cost Hillary Clinton the election: "Biden is trying to woo unhappy Republicans, when he should be mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Democrats." Well, that's one way to get your attention -- Hillary Clinton is, after all, the only Democrats who's ever managed to lose an election to Trump -- but why should those options be either/or? No doubt the Biden campaign needs to put a lot of effort into getting out the base vote -- that's how Obama won two elections for Biden, and that's one place Clinton dropped the ball. On the other hand, I don't see any harm from touting a few Republican endorsements -- former Michigan governor Rick Snyder (of Flint water notoriety) is mentioned here. I would worry if Biden started tailoring his program to make vague cross-party appeals, but considering his opponent, he has a readymade case -- e.g., sanity.

Peter Kafka: Apple won't take a cut -- for now -- when Facebook sells online classes: The underlying story is that Apple currently claims 30% of all charges for digital services that occur using apps from their app store (thus exploiting their control over iPhone users). I wasn't aware of that -- I've studiously avoided doing business with Apple ever since my Apple II days, when I got disgusted over their pricing of hardware components -- but evidently Google does the same thing with Android apps (I have an Android phone, but don't think I've ever downloaded any apps from their store, and certainly haven't paid them any money for them).

Roge Karma: To achieve racial justice, America's broken democracy must be fixed.

Jen Kirby: Yes, Russia is interfering in the 2020 election. "It wants to cause chaos, again. But it's also learned some lessons from 2016." It's no secret that Russian hackers favor Trump, and reasonable to infer that's because Putin favors Trump. But why seems to be nothing but speculation: maybe it's to sow chaos, maybe it's because Putin thinks Trump will be easier to deal with, maybe it's because Russia just wants to be viewed as a serious player, maybe the Republicans are subcontracting (an angle Mueller doesn't seem to have considered, distracted as he was by high level contacts between people who don't really work).

Ezra Klein:

Michael Kranish: Donald Trump, facing financial ruin, sought control of his elderly father's estate. The family fight was epic.

Eric Levitz:

Jane Mayer: A young Kennedy, in Kushnerland, turned whistle-blower.

Bill McKibben: A post-Ginsburg Court could be one more climate obstacle: Give him any arbitrary headline, and he'll write you a piece about how it threatens the planet, adding "any chance we still have will require abnormal action." Presumably, not abnormal as in McConnell's rush to approve Trump's pick. More like abnormal in attending demonstrations led by McKibben. I don't recall Ginsburg ever taking a stand on anthropogenic climate change, but I do recall the Supreme Court overturning EPA limits on greenhouse gases because they didn't consider the economic impacts. She may have dissented from that. Trump's next pick certainly won't, so I guess McKibben has a point. But it's always the same one.

Ian Millhiser: How the Supreme Court revived Jim Crow voter suppression tactics: Interview with Carol Anderson, author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.

Sara Morrison: Section 230, the internet free speech law Trump wants to change, explained.

Nicole Narea:

Anna North: The Trump administration's war on birth control: "The Affordable Care Act made birth control more accessible than ever. Then came Trump."

Jeff Orlowski: We need to rethink social media before it's too late. We've accepted a Faustian bargain: "A business model that alters the way we think, act, and live our lives has us heading toward dystopia." Well, we never thought it through in the first place. Social media was created by private companies, and designed in ways to allow those companies to profit by taking advantage of their users, and delivering them to advertisers. There are as lot of problems with that, but giving the government more control over them, even if it's just regulating them as monopolies, isn't much better, and could be worse. I'd like to see non-profit entities set up to chip away at their market, with some kind of public funding replacing their need to sell things. One great thing about the Internet is that the marginal cost of data is nil, so there's no reason anyone has to excluded from anything. Working back from that point, it should be possible to subsidize content creation in ways that don't make it subject to political control. And all sorts of ancillary processes could be generated on the basis of what people actually want, as opposed to what a few entrepreneurs calculate can be turned into profit.

Evan Osnos: The TikTok fiasco reflects the bankruptcy of Trump's foreign policy.

JC Pan: Some rich people are hilariously freaked out about a Biden presidency: "The mere prospect of a Democratic president nominally meddling with their plunder has generated anxiety among the wealthy." The photo is of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, worth $1.3 billion, and among the seriously worried:

A bombshell report released last week by the RAND Corporation revealed an astonishing upward redistribution of $47 trillion from the bottom 90 percent to the top 1 percent between 1975 and 2018. In their paper, authors Carter Price and Kathryn Edwards argued that if the country's economic gains over that time period had been distributed as they were in the postwar era -- that is, prior to the explosion of a bipartisan free market mania that slashed taxes, hobbled unions, and eviscerated public programs -- median worker pay today would be about twice what it is. "This really is the entire country versus a very small number of people," the Center for American Progress's Ben Olinsky said of the report. After nearly half a century of raking it in at the expense of everyone else, with the enthusiastic blessings of right-wing think tanks and policymakers from both major parties, it's no wonder that the one percent is now scandalized by whispers of even the mildest reforms.

Heather Digby Parton: Trump's eugenics obsession: He thinks he has "good German genes," because he's a fascist: "Trump's 'racehorse theory' of genetics is profoundly racist -- it's also why he thinks he's a natural-born genius."

Matt Phillips: China is on a building binge, and metal prices are surging.

Lili Pike: China's commitment to become carbon neutral by 2060, explained.

Andrew Prokop:

David Roberts:

Aaron Rupar:

Jerry Saltz: I don't know where this ends. But I cannot stop panicking about November. Sounds like he's my age, or a bit more -- talks about being at Chicago in 1968, whereas I only watched it on TV. Still, I can relate to this:

Call it liberal bedwetting; being afraid, unable to maintain our emotional hull-structures and psychological balance. Of course, it is all of that. Our internal shields collapsed. Not just waking up in the middle of the night thinking about how bad Trump and the Republicans are and have been. (That's been a norm for four years, never being able to "normalize" the actions of this ruling class.) But feeling like we were staring in the face of something bigger. And personal. Something like . . . our faith in America -- our mealy-mouthed, privileged, naïve liberal conviction that the country would get better, erratically and only through fighting, but in some way that felt nevertheless reliable. I have always assumed that while the arc of history is long and hard and fraught, that in the end it really will arc toward justice. This was probably always foolish, but I felt it. The most pressing questions about progress always seemed to be when? and how fast? and over what obstacles? Not if.

I was pretty quickly disabused of the notion that America always does right -- the Vietnam War did that, but it was easy to find much more -- but it seemed like we always lucked out from the worst consequences of our deeds. After all, Americans are fundamentally practical people, so sooner or later you have to adjust to reality and go with something that works. Clearly, lots of things in America aren't working right now, and fixing them is going to be hard, in no small part because the solutions often run against myths right-wingers have propagated over the last 40 (to 75) years. Some such problems are subtle, intricate, difficult to see, and those will be the hardest. But some are as fucking obvious and transparent as Donald Trump, and can be solved as simply as voting him out (or if you're as angry as you should be, try this one). When I grew up, it was literally impossible to watch a movie or TV show that didn't inexorably lead to a happy ending, so you can see where my instincts came from. That started to change with the advent of "anti-heroes" (coincidentally with the Vietnam War), and has progressed to the point where villains are our heroes, and vice versa. And in this world, it's hard to believe that we'll catch a break, and see Trump and the Republicans caught up short.

Theodore Schleifer: This billionaire built a big-money machine to oust Trump. Why do some Democrats hate him? Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and investor in other ventures. Nicholas Lemann wrote about him in Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream, where he was profiled along with Adolf Berle and Michael Jensen to illustrate the business thinking aligned with FDR's New Deal (Berle), Reagan's right-wing reaction (Jensen), and the business-friendly New Democrats like Clinton and Obama (Hoffman).

Nancy Scola: "Holy s---" is what we're thinking': Inside Facebook's reckoning with 2020.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Simple twists of fate: Weekly column, one I long avoided but these days he's starting to feel refreshing. Starts with a series of bullet items on Breonna Taylor, ranging from "There were 146 arrests in Louisville on Wednesday, none for the murder of Breonna Taylor" to this:

It's tempting to think: so, this is what we've come to. Police can break into your house in the middle of the night on specious warrant, shoot you in your bed, smear you after you're dead, entice witnesses to lie about you, fabricate stories about their own actions and then, after it's all been exposed, just walk. Free of charges. Free of discipline. Free to do it all over again. Because they will and they have. Yes, it's tempting to think this is what we've come to in the age of Trump. But what if this is what we've always been? Since the first slave patrols busted into houses late at night, to drag human beings back into a state of enshackled property.

Also this on the Supreme Court, which could have added more old cases (hundreds, maybe thousands) but stuck with the most notorious ones:

I keep hearing about the "legitimacy crisis" that will engulf the Supreme Court if the Senate moves forward with Trump's expected nomination. Yet when did the institution that rendered Dred Scott (1857), Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Korematsu (1944), Bowers v. Hardwick, upholding Georgia's sodomy statute (1986), Bush v. Gore (2000), Exxon Shipping v. Baker, revoking punitive damages for Exxon Valdez wreck (2008) and Citizens United (2010) acquire this glittering aura of legitimacy?

The answer is that the 1940s-1970s court did a few things (but not everything) right, which led people of my age to look to the Court for protection against unjust political power. That Court has been systematically undermined over decades, but three Trump appointments pushes it over the edge into the abyss of despotism. And, by the way, stopping Barrett won't save us. The Court is already packed. On a different subject:

COVID-19 mortality rates were 30% lower in unionized nursing homes in New York. When there was a union, workers had significantly greater access to N95 masks and eye shields, and infection rates were lower.

Emily Stewart: We can end America's unemployment nightmare: "The problem with our social safety net is clear. The solution is, too." This is part of a series of articles Vox calls The Great Rebuild. Others:

Matt Stieb:

Margaret Sullivan: Four years ago, Trump survived 'Access Hollywood' -- and a media myth of indestructibility was born. This fails to mention that the Wikileaks dump of DNC emails came out right after the 'Access Hollywood' tape, a feint the media readily fell for. Then came Comey's announcement that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, which resonated with all the earlier email stories. On the other hand, Trump managed to suppress the Stormy Daniels story until well after the election, so we have no idea how it might have played out, especially coming after the "Access Hollywood" tape. It certainly was true that major mainstream media outlets thought playing Trump up was good for business, and the polls suggested there wasn't much risk in doing so. They're liable to think the same thing for the same reasons this time. But repeatedly letting Trump off the hook isn't the same thing as deeming him indestructible. They could just as well take that as a challenge, and demolish him completely by election time. Lord knows, they owe the public a break.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel: Stephen F Cohen, 1938-2020. Obituary of the late Russia scholar and noted critic of neo-Cold War jingoism, especially popular among Clintonist Democrats since Hillary got shafted, by his wife, aka editor of The Nation. Also on Cohen:

AJ Vicens: Republicans decry slow ballot counts while hampering efforts to speed them up. This is typical of everything Republicans have done on elections this round: they never offer anything to increase voting, to make sure voting is representative of the public, and/or to make sure the results are credible and trusted. They only work to scam the system, which makes sense given that their agenda is contrary to the interests of most people, and that most people recognize it as such.

Alex Ward:

Jason Wilson/Robert Evans: Revealed: pro-Trump activists plotted violence ahead of Portland rallies.

Matthew Yglesias:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Aside from the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my main takeaway for the week is that I'm seeing a lot of articles trying to promote the election chances of Donald Trump, or at least make you real nervous. One of the more self-consciously rational ones is Ed Kilgore: A rational case for Trump winning the election without stealing it. A bit less rational is Michael Kruse: Trump is riding high. Can he keep from blowing it?. I suppose this sort of thing is good for clicks, and may impress upon Democrats the need for extra vigilance. The "rational" basis seems to be that Trump's approval ratings are little (if any) worse than they've ever been, and there's also the Electoral College skew, the well-oiled Fox propaganda machine, and a lot of "dark money" up to "dirty tricks" (and I suppose you can throw the omnipotent Russians into the mix). But there's also a lot of irrational, often downright magical thinking involved. I cite a few articles in this cluster below, but I'm not in general interested in speculative paranoia. There are plenty of real things to fear these days. Nor do I wish to prejudge the malevolence and malignancy of the American people. If Trump wins, that case will be proven, and if not, faith in democracy -- even one as compromised as ours -- will be vindicated.

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg opens up a seat on the Supreme Court, which has emerged as the ultimate arbiter of vice and virtue in the nation today. The fact that at age 87, with a series of grave illnesses, she clung onto her "appointment for life" shifts our focus away from her life and accomplishments to the political import of allowing Donald Trump to appoint her successor, subject only to the confirmation of Mitch McConnell's Republican Senate. The politicization of the Court is not new, although it has taken on a heightened and more desperate tone with recent polarization. From roughly 1940-80, we were fortunate to have had a Supreme Court that interpreted the Constitution in ways that expanded personal freedom and promoted social justice. This was a consequence of Franklin Roosevelt's long tenure as president and the legacy he left, which Republican Dwight Eisenhower rarely challenged, and which John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson extended. The most important achievement of the New Deal Court was its rulings against Jim Crow laws, although it's worth noting that their effect was limited until serious civil rights legislation was passed under Johnson. This period lasted long enough to let people forget that before Roosevelt, the Supreme Court had been by far the most reactionary branch of government. Conservatives railed against the Court, and Richard Nixon mounted the first significant right-wing attack on the civil rights and social justice the New Deal Court promoted. Ever since, the right has mounted an hysterical campaign to take away the rights granted by the Court -- especially abortion, but also the constitutional right to privacy free choice is based on -- and to secure ever greater privileges for the rich (as evidenced most clearly by the Court's recent claim that unlimited campaign spending is protected "free speech").

In recent years, the Court has been precariously balanced between Republican-nominated conservatives and Democratic-nominated liberals, with the former holding a 5-4 majority. The vacancy caused by the death of Antonin Scalia in February, 2016 should have given Obama the chance to flip the court 5-4 in favor of the liberals, but Mitch McConnell's Republicans controlled the Senate and refused to even hold hearings much less risk a vote on Obama's nominee (Merrick Garland, actually chosen for his centrist credentials). Their argument then was that with the election on the horizon, the appointment should be reserved for the incoming president, not the outgoing "lame duck." Needless to say, that is an argument you won't be hearing McConnell make this time, even though the election is much closer now (46 days after Ginsburg's death, vs. eight months after Scalia's).

All of this (and more) is covered in the following links. Perhaps the best place to start is Ian Millhiser: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy, and the future of the Supreme Court, explained.

By the way, just read that Stephen F Cohen (81) died. He's written extensively on Russia and Putin, consistently arguing against restarting the Cold War and de-escalating the anti-Russia hysteria among Democrats since the 2016 election, without being uncritical of Putin. He will be missed, but if Trump is soundly defeated in November he may not be as essential as he's been over the last four years.

I'm also saddened to note that Diane Wahto (80) has died here in Wichita. She was a friend and an ally, a former chair of the Wichita Peace group.

Some scattered links this week:

Kate Aronoff: The Biden adviser who gives climate activists nightmares: Ernest Moniz, Obama's secretary of energy, nuclear physicist, "good friend" of the fossil fuel industry. Under Moniz, oil companies overcame Hubbert's Peak to increase US oil and gas production past its 1969 peak. Since then, he's cashed in on the favors he doled out to the industry.

Andrew Bacevich: The China conundrum: deterrence as dominance: "Does it really make sense to begin an arms race with China when there are so many other areas for competition and collaboration?" Democratic defense apparatchik Michele Flournoy, oft-touted as Biden's likely Secretary of Defense, thinks so. She is being provocative, as well as stupid.

Dean Baker:

  • Robert Samuelson hangs it up. I said my piece about Samuelson last week. Still, more here worth pointing out.

    Samuelson notes the work that Treasury secretaries Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, along with Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke did to combat the Great Recession, and then says "but that doesn't excuse their failure to anticipate the housing boom and to preempt the bust." This is absolutely right. . . .

    Unfortunately, Samuelson also gives this trio credit for avoiding a second Great Depression. That's just a fairy tale they tell to children to justify shoveling hundreds of billions of dollars to the richest people in the country, to save their banks from their own incompetence. There is nothing about the situation in 2008-09 that would have forced us to endure a second Great Depression. We know the secret of getting out of a depression. It's called "spending money."

    Unfortunately, that trio made sure that most of the money went to bankers, which turned out to be a very inefficient use of stimulus cash (but nice for bankers, sure).

  • Trade wars are class wars: Even more than Klein and Pettis say: A note on the book Trade Wars Are Class Wars, by Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis.

Moriah Balingit/Laura Meckler: Trump alleges 'left-wing indoctrination' in schools, says he will create national commission to push more 'pro-American' history. If anything, the opposite is the problem: "Yet educators and students say that Trump is wildly out of touch with what happens in public school classrooms, where the United States is still held up as a beacon of freedom and democracy, and a moral leader." That assertion was dubious even when I was growing up, which was one reason the more I read into US history, the more critical I became of American foreign (and for that matter domestic) policy. Trump is calling for more (not less) indoctrination, because he wants to make sure that Americans blindly follow leaders like himself. I find this proposal exceptionally horrifying, not just because it perpetuates a mythology which reinforces problems and issues we've failed to own up to but more basically it attacks the very principle that truth matters, and that historians are responsible for uncovering truth within the context of time past. It is, in short, a demand that we give up the ability to think critically and act morally.

Zack Beauchamp: Conservative media is setting the stage for delegitimizing a Biden victory.

Medea Benjamin/Leonardo Flores: The US needs a new 'Good Neighbor' policy toward Latin America: Reminds me how one of Mexico's 19th century presidents lamented: "Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States." For 30 years after the Spanish-American War, America treated Latin America with "gunboat diplomacy" -- repeatedly invading countries and installing puppet regimes. Franklin Roosevelt tried to turn this around with his Good Neighbor Policy, and generally did, until the Cold War spread and gave he US excuses to overthrow a dozen or more countries, starting with Guatemala in 1953.

Jonathan Blitzer: The private Georgia immigration-detention facility at the center of a whistle-blower's complaint.

John Cassidy:

Jonathan Chait:

Fabiola Cineas:

Aaron Ross Coleman: Congress's failure to pass stimulus has had a devastating -- and predictable -- effect on minority groups.

Chas Danner: The 2020 hurricane season is officially out of names. Only other year when they "went Greek" for extra names was 2005, which wound up with 27 named storms, but took an extra month to get there (three storms were so large that year their names were retired: Katrina, Rita, and Wilma). For a full rundown on this year's storms, see Wikipedia. Since this article, Tropical Storm Beta was named, and is gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico as it heads for Texas and Louisiana. Hurricane Teddy, a Category 4 (the second largest this year, after Laura), is still active, but well off the Atlantic coast, threatening Bermuda, and likely to wind up hitting Nova Scotia. Tropical Storm Vicky petered out after hitting the Cabo Verde Islands, and Tropical Storm Alpha veered east into Portugal and Spain. Tropical Storm Wilfred is still active, well out in the Atlantic and slowly heading toward the East Coast. Because storms are named when they reach tropical storm level (tropical depressions are just numbered) the names sometimes seem out of sequence. The Atlantic hurricane season officially ends on November 30, but note that there were already 4 named storms (all tropical storms with 45-60 mph winds) before the season started, so norms don't seem to be working this year.

Katherine Eban: "That's their problem": How Jared Kushner let the markets decide America's COVID-19 fate. I was referred to this piece by Libby Watson: Jared Kushner's psychopathic incompetence: "The White House's most cynical opportunist can't even get amorality right." Eban wrote:

At the end of July, writing for Vanity Fair, I revealed that Kushner had commissioned a robust federal COVID-19 testing plan, only to abandon it before it could be implemented. One public health expert in frequent contact with the White House's official coronavirus task force said a national plan likely fell out of favor in part because of a disturbingly cynical calculation: "The political folks believed that because [the virus] was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy."

The story struck a nerve, partly because it painted a picture of what might have been: The administration could have invested in a national testing system at a scale that could have greatly limited the number of cases and deaths. Instead the U.S. is on track to pass the grim milestone of 200,000 official COVID-19 deaths this month. With just 4% of the world's population, we now account for 20% of global deaths from the virus. . . .

Part of the answer almost certainly lies in the deep-seated belief, held by Kushner, President Trump, and their loyalists, that the federal government not only should not, but cannot play an effective leading role in responding to the pandemic, owing to its lumbering bureaucracy and onerous rules. At almost each step they have ignored the expertise of career officials and dismissed those with relevant experience as counterproductive meddlers. Trump famously calls them the Deep State.

Tom Engelhardt: Fire and fury like the world has never seen: One thing I've never been able to fathom is why some people think the "second coming of Christ" would be a good thing. My grandfather was the first to broach that subject with me, when he asked me whether I thought the founding of Israel would harken the day (the only thing I can remember him ever asking me). I don't recall answering. He came from along line of farmers whose intellectual interests began and ended with the Book of Revelations. (My father was the last of that line, and his ideas were pretty unconventional. My own take was that Revelations was to the Bible what a punchline was to a joke: if somehow you managed to swallow the set up, something that would make you finally realize it has all been a farce.) As it turns out, David Lloyd George thought just that when he signed the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and British rule over Palestine seemed designed to further that scenario (to the extent it seemed designed at all). There are at least a dozen recent books on how Trump is paving the way for the end times -- and those are just the ones by his more fanatic supporters. As something of a born-again atheist, I have no faith in heavenly kingdoms, either on earth or elsewhere, but I do recognize the impulses of crazed leaders to burn and leave it all in ruins. Early in his term, Trump famously threatened "fire and fury" should North Korea defy him. As Engelhardt notes:

And in every way imaginable, Donald Trump delivered as promised. He's been uniquely fiery and furious. In his own fashion, he's also been a man of his word. He's already brought "fire and fury" to this country in so many ways and, if he has anything to say about it, he's just gotten started.

Don't doubt for a second that, should he be losing on November 3rd (or beyond, given the mail-in vote to come), he'll declare electoral fraud and balk at leaving the White House. Don't doubt for a second that he'd be happy to torch that very building and whatever, at this point, is left of the American system with it before he saw himself "lose."

Since he is, in his own fashion, a parody of everything: a politician, a Republican, an autocrat, even a human being, he sums up in some extreme (if eerily satiric) fashion human efforts to destroy our way of life in these years. In truth, fiery and furiously fueled, he's a historic cloud of smoke and ash over us all.

John Feffer: Trump's scorched-earth doctrine: "Trump is doing whatever he can to make it impossible for his successor to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems." This article could have been 5-10 times as long (for instance, it never mentions Venezuela or Cuba, Bolivia or Brazil, or Somalia, where Trump has now bombed more than Bush and Obama combined). Maybe he's making some progress on disengagement from Afghanistan and Iraq, although nothing you can bank on. And he does seem to have dodged the worst case scenario he was headed for with North Korea, but again he's failed to work out any form of deal. Feffer has been working up to this piece, as in his A memo to the next president.

Matt Ford: Bill Barr's titanic lack of self-awareness: I don't see why it's so hard to understand Barr. Subhed says "he claims to be just a public servant," but Republicans since Margaret Thatcher have repeatedly argued that there is no public interest, therefore no such thing as a public servant. All people are simply self-interested, and for Republicans self-interest means looking at everything purely in terms of political advantages. In Barr's case, "everything" is law, and law is simply a tool to be used for advancing his party and himself. He's smarter about it than Trump is, but that's a pretty low bar. More on Barr this week:

Susan B Glasser: "It was all about the election": The ex-White House aide Olivia Troye on Trump's narcissistic mishandling of Covid-19: "The first staffer on the coronavirus task force to go public tells The New Yorker that America's pandemic response was 'derailed by the person at the very top.'"

Glenn Greenwald: The US-supported coup in Bolivia continues to produce repression and tyranny, while revealing how US media propaganda works.

Benjamin Hart: Trump administration to ban WeChat and TikTok from app stores beginning Sunday. Allegedly there is a national security angle here, but it also seems likely that Trump is doing this just to force the apps to be sold to "American" companies, in which case it's hard to imagine that some sort of graft isn't involved. More:

Pamela Karlan: Our most vulnerable election: Review of Lawrence Douglas: Will He Go?: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020.

Stephen Kinzer: Back off Venezuela already: "The American campaign against socialist leader Nichoas Maduro is only hurting the people of the country." And reminding Venezuelans that the United States has always favored business interests over the people. [Unfortunately, the Boston Globe makes it impossible for occasional readers to access articles on their website.]

Jen Kirby: Are China and Iran meddling in US elections? It's complicated. I'm sure that nearly every government in the world sees their fate affected by US elections, but few can do anything about it, and little of what they do can have any real effect -- in part because "meddling" usually produces an adverse reaction. Israel is the only real exception inasmuch as they can appeal for support from two groups of voters: Israel-minded Jews, and (more significantly and successfully of late) Apocalypse-minded Christians. But nobody much talks about Israel's efforts.

Ezra Klein:

  • There are no good choices: "In shifting so much responsibility to individual people, America's government has revealed the limits of individualism."

  • Race, policing, and the universal yearning for safety: Interview with Phillip Atiba Goff, of the Center for Policing Equity.

  • A progressive vision to make America great: Interview with Klein's partner at Vox, Matthew Yglesias, about his book: One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. "In it, he argues that the path to ensure American greatness and preeminence on the world stage is a combination of mass immigration, pro-family policy, and overhauling America's housing and transportation systems." Yglesias is an often astute critic of right-wing political efforts, but he also won last year's "Neoliberal Shill" award, mostly for the sort of "policy vision" he presents in the book. I often cite Yglesias, but haven't rushed out to buy the book. Last week I cited a critical review: Jacob Bacharach: The emptiness of Matthew Yglesias's biggest idea. Bacharach's sharpest jibe:

    But what does it mean when a columnist or a pundit writes "a book"? Swift reads, even when they number in the many hundreds of pages, volumes like David Brooks's The Second Mountain or Paul Krugman's Arguing With Zombies or Thomas Friedman"s "flat world" diptych tend to collect a set of superficially counterintuitive arguments and insights that upon closer inspection almost always resolve themselves into the preexisting, commonsense notions that their intended readership already assumes to be true.

    I can see the argument that if America wants to "remain number one," it may be helpful to swell the population to a level comparable with China and India, but I don't get what's so important about "remaining number one." If America's self-appointed role as global hegemon is failing (as certainly appears to be the case), maybe the answer isn't to compete harder but to find a path to cooperation that precludes the need for anyone to be hegemonic? And while I'm open-minded about immigration, I don't see a tripling of the current population as necessarily good for our quality of life. Indeed, I'm inclined to be skeptical about the real value of growth -- which is, as always, the main thing "neoliberal shills" have to peddle. Here's another review of Yglesias' book: Felix Salmon: Matthew Yglesias thinks there should be 'One Billion Americans'.

Paul Krugman: The GOP plot to sabotage 2021: In refusing to even negotiate a new relief/stimulus package, Republicans are signifying two things: they don't think any new legislation will help them at the polls in November; and if they lose, their intention is to leave the nation in the worst possible shape for the Democrats in January. Of course, if the Republicans retain control of the Senate, they'll do all they can to make Biden look bad, much as they did to Obama in the recession he inherited. You'd think this calculation would be obvious -- and something Democrats could rally voters against. But Republicans were no less blatant in 2008-09, and somehow managed to ride obstruction to a major rebound victory in 2010. Even if they lose in November, they feel invincible, because no one really calls them on their most malevolent impulses. Even less remarked upon is how this works as extortion. The basic argument is that if you don't elect Republicans, they are going to cause so much destruction that you'll regret the affront. Of course, normal, sane people would never give in to that sort of bullying. Yet time and again the American voters do -- at least, enough of them in our severely skewed electoral system to let them claim victory and use their powers to profit the 1% and undermine everyone else.

Eric Levitz: It is not undemocratic to call Trump's presidency 'illegitimate'.

Martin Longman:

German Lopez:

Jane Mayer: For Mitch McConnell, holding the Senate is the highest priority.

Harold Meyerson: A Rorschach test for establishment liberalism. A note, which serves as an introduction, to a New York Times feature on the 50th anniversary of Milton Friedman's essay, "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits": Greed is good. Except when it's bad.

Ian Millhiser:

Kiana Moore: "They didn't see me as innocent": "Can you remember your first experience with the police? For these 9 Black and brown people, the encounters would shape their sense of safety forever." Also see Amber Ruffin shares a lifetime of traumatic run-ins with police, a week's worth of memoirs Seth Meyers broadcast the week after George Floyd was killed.

Nicole Narea:

Ella Nilsen: The ways Democrats could retake the Senate majority, explained. I rarely link to these horserace pieces, but flipping the Senate (and ending the filibuster) are essential for Biden and the Democrats to have any effectiveness at all. Would be especially delicious should South Carolina and Kentucky retire Graham and McDonnell.

Timothy Noah: The good life that Keynes promised America got stolen: "A new study shows in electrifying terms the extent to which 45 years of income inequality destroyed the prosperity we should all be enjoying."

Osita Nwanevu:

  • The ridiculous war-gaming of the 2020 election: "Trump's opponents are so concerned that he might steal the election that they have forgotten to worry that he might simply win it."

  • The cultural permanence of Donald Trump: "Trumpism has become America's latest civic religion, and it won't be voted out of office in November." Presumably what he means to say is that even if Trump is voted out of office in November, Trumpism will survive as a political legacy and continue to affect elections indefinitely into the future. I rather doubt that. A big part of Trump's allure is his reputation as a winner, and losing will wipe that out -- even if his apologists come up with lots of excuses. Also, although his retail political skills are pretty meager, it is really hard to think of anyone else who is seriously rich/successful yet with his slovenly reality TV persona seems approachable and acceptable to the clods who adore him. Mainstream Republican donors had no interest in Trump until he won, and will have no interest in him if he turns out to be a loser. They will carry on, looking for newer, more convincing cons to carry on their graft.

Trita Parsi:

Deborah Pearlstein: How the government lost its mind: "Over the past 50 years, America has given up on the Enlightenment-era ideals of its Founders -- and the country's coronavirus disaster is the result."

Cameron Peters: Trump's Nevada rally was an exercise in delegitimizing voting -- and denying reality: "Trump keeps holding potential superspreader events in the middle of a pandemic."

Lili Pike: What wildfires in Brazil, Siberia, and the US West have in common: "Climate change and mismanagement are fueling large, uncontrolled fires around the world." More on fire:

Katha Pollitt: Melania Trump really doesn't care: "A new book by her ex-best friend shows how the first lady sold her soul." The book is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's "tell-not-quite-all" Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady. By the way, article opens with a picture of Trump and Melania kissing. Reminded me of the cartoon show Bojack Horseman. Weirdest thing about that show was when different species (e.g., with horse or dog heads) try to kiss.

Andrew Prokop: Bob Woodward's new book Rage, and the controversies around it, explained. "What did Trump know about the coronavirus? And what did Woodward know?" It's occurred to me that Woodward might have been trying to make Trump look more knowledgeable about coronavirus in February than he was, although when you listent to the tapes, you quickly realize that he didn't know much -- the value of the tapes was in contrast to the even dumber things he later said publicly. It's also possible that Woodward didn't grasp even what Trump said, and that the import of the quotes only became evident near publication time when publishers were searching through the book for tidbits they could market. It's even possible that Woodward's conclusions about Trump fitness were suggested by editors after having read the book. More on Rage:

  • Jonathan Chait: Noted bibliophobe Donald Trump claims he read 466-page Woodward book in 1 night.

  • Isaac Chotiner: Bob Woodward's bad characters: Evident sources include Robert O'Brien, James Mattis, and Dan Coats ("Of Woodward's three main characters, Coats's journey is the most pathos-filled.") The book starts with O'Brien:

    We are only two pages in, which is usually about the moment in a Woodward book when you can guess whether a subject has coöperated: if he has, he almost certainly comes out looking well. Three pages later, a week has passed, and Woodward casually notes that O'Brien, appearing on CBS, has just said about the virus, "Right now, there's no reason for Americans to panic. This is something that is a low risk, we think, in the U.S." Another author might note the dissonance between O'Brien's public and private statements; Woodward does not even allude to it. But this is typical of Woodward's White House-centric narratives: inconsistencies pile up; narrative threads are dropped and then recovered without any notice of the ways in which they have altered in the interim. In a 1996 review of his books, Joan Didion wrote, "Those who talk to Mr. Woodward, in other words, can be confident that he will be civil ('I too was growing tired, and it seemed time to stand up and thank him'), that he will not feel impelled to make connections between what he is told and what is already known, that he will treat even the most patently self-serving account as if untainted by hindsight." . . .

    And yet Woodward appears as unequipped to grapple with Trump as the erstwhile members of his Cabinet were. Whether Woodward and his sources are aware or disengaged, cynical or naïve, takes on extra importance because of the unique challenges and outrages of our era, in which a willingness to abide Trump has sat side by side with an inability to understand his malignancy. . . .

    One of the issues that marred Woodward's Bush books, despite their interest, was his willingness to believe less-than-honest people. That is an even bigger problem in the Trump era, which has outdone the Bush years in dishonesty and features an outrageous number of people whose only motive for serving in government seems to be personal glory or wealth. If this is not enough to make anyone pine for Dick Cheney, the lying at least makes it even more vital that journalists doubt what they hear and think carefully about what to weed out or explain. I somehow have trouble believing that Lindsey Graham is, as Woodward recounts, worried that the judiciary is becoming "too partisan" or that much can be gleaned from Jared Kushner's endless monologues on leadership. The problem goes beyond the details. In one conversation, Mattis and Tillerson discuss the importance of State and Defense working together and beefing up the diplomatic corps; a reader who did not follow the news in 2017 would be surprised to learn that Tillerson was simultaneously embarking on gutting the State Department. . . .

    Even Woodward's worst books contain an astonishing number of fascinating details, but those who have lamented the failure of our institutions to stand up to Trump are unlikely to be surprised by the mind-set of the people who populated them. Acceptance of how far we have fallen would have meant not only reappraising the country many of them loved but also the Party many of them belonged to. But the alternative explanation for their behavior is no better: they knew what was coming and -- whether out of a sense of decorum or partisanship or cowardice -- refused to say so.

  • Constance Grady: Bob Woodward withheld his Trump revelations for months. Was that wrong? "Book publishing doesn't consider ethical questions to be its business. Increasingly, that's a problem."

  • Fred Kaplan: Trump comes off even worse in Woodward's Rage than you've heard.

  • Aaron Rupar: New Woodward audio is the starkest illustration yet of how Trump misled about coronavirus.

David Roberts: 4 astonishing signs of coal's declining economic viability: "Coal is now a loser around the world."

Aja Romano: What we know about a deadly shooting in Rochester, New York: "Two people are dead and 16 injured after a shooting at a party."

Aaron Rupar:

  • "There has to be retribution": Trump's chilling comments about extrajudicial killings, briefly explained.

  • Trump's ABC town hall revealed a president disconnected from reality: "He faced tough questions from voters -- and had few answers." Subheds: Trump won't even acknowledge that systemic racism is a thing; Trump has no shame about just making stuff up; This is your brain on Fox News.

    Along similar lines, Trump told a voter who asked him about immigration that he'll unveil new legislation "in a very short time" -- a talking point he often uses to buy time when he doesn't really have a plan.

    On the topic of law and order -- one that Trump is trying to make a centerpiece of his campaign -- Stephanopoulos grilled him on a disconnect between what he said back in 2016 and what he's saying now.

    "You promised four years ago at the Republican Convention, 'I'm gonna restore law and order in this country,'" he pointed out.

    Trump's response was that he has -- if you disregard all the large cities that are run by Democrats (so, most of them).

    Trump went on to compare the unrest that took place in American cities over the summer with the fall of Berlin in 1945, seemingly unaware of how that analogy reflects on his stewardship of the country.

  • Trump's dark National Archives speech was white resentment run amok: "It's just nonsense to believe that America isn't racist." Related:

    • Nancy LeTourneau: Is America strong enough to confront its racist past? Clever of her to flip the tables and present Trump as weak, but the real issue with him is that he rejects Americans' common understanding of ideals: especially the central importance of equality.

      That is precisely what threatens both Trump and his supporters. To confront the role that racism plays in our society is a two-step process. First of all, we must recognize that, since our founding, U.S. institutions have been grounded in white supremacy. Secondly, in order to ensure that our principles of equality and justice apply to everyone, those institutions have to change.

      That first step presents an obstacle for people like Trump, who view any admission of error as a sign of weakness. During his speech on Thursday, the president said that the narratives being pushed by the left resemble the anti-American propaganda of our adversaries, concluding that "both groups want to see America weakened, derided and totally diminished."

      But Trump's approach is the one that broadcasts weakness. It takes strength to examine ourselves, identify shortcomings, and correct them to the best of our ability. . . .

      In many ways, what is on the ballot in November are these two views of what it means to be an American. Are we a country that is too afraid to even admit our shortcomings, or are we strong enough to be self-critical and seize our power to continue the process of aligning the country with our highest ideals?

Tom Scocca: Crowd cheers as the President gloats about this one time the cops shot a reporter with a rubber ballot for no reason.

Liliana Segura: Trump prepares to execute Christopher Vialva for a crime he committed as a teenager: "Vialva is the first Black man to face execution during Trump's killing spree. He is set to die on September 24." Vialva has spent more time on death row than he lived before he was sentenced to die.

Alex Shephard:

    Why aren't voters blaming Donald Trump for the bad economy?: "Tens of millions are unemployed, hungry, and behind on the rent. But the economy is barely registering as an election issue." Just spitballing here, but Trump got no credit for the "great" economy because for most people it wasn't all that great, but has the "bad" economy since the pandemic broke out really been that bad? The massive first-round of stimulus spending made up for a lot -- one result being that Americans did a lot of saving during the lockdown. On the other hand, there's a tweet here based on an article interviewing construction workers in Ohio, which is totally deluded. Doesn't say much for the cognitive skills of the American people.

  • Barack Obama's memoir is set to be the biggest book of this year. That's pretty depressing considering that his main claim to fame was providing us a brief and unhappy respite between two much more disastrous Republican presidents.

  • Why does The Washington Post publish this Never-Trump drivel? Singles out a recent op-ed by AEI flunky Danielle Pletka, where her "principles" go into full wobble: "I never considered voting for Trump in 2016. I may be forced to vote for him this year."

Danny Sjursen: September 14, 2001: The day America became Israel: The date was when Congress voted, with just one dissent (Rep. Barbara Lee, D-CA) to give GW Bush a blank check for starting his Global War on Terror. Three days earlier, planes flew into the World Trade Center in NYC and the Pentagon near DC, killing close to 3,000 people. I was in Brooklyn at the time, visiting friends, and we watched a lot of TV that day. One thing I saw was stock video of Palestinians cheering and burning US flags, released by Israel shortly after the attacks. Later during the day, I saw the grinning mugs of Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres bragging about how good the attacks were for Israel, predicting that now Americans will see the world the way Israelis do. (Ariel Sharon was PM of Israel at the time, but his limited English didn't merit prime time, nor did his perpetual scowl.) 9/11 gave the neocons recently installed in key government positions by Bush and Cheney the opportunity they've been waiting for. The neocons may have started as fanatic Cold Warriors, but in the 1990s they formed an alliance with Israel's right-wing to scuttle the Oslo Peace Process and confront both the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors from a stance of absolute, uncompromising power. With Sharon's accession to power, their relationship to Israel shifted from support to envy: their most fervent hope was for the US to impose its absolute power on the world, as Israel was doing in its own little corner. Whence came mantras like "axis of evil" and "real men go to Tehran." You can argue about how well that stance has served Israel: the conflict with the Palestinians will never end until Israel grants them some semblance of justice, but the costs of dominance are within politically acceptable bounds, as long as BDS doesn't hamper business, and the next Intifada is no more efficient than the last. And for now, Israel has nothing to fear from formerly hostile neighbors. The thrust of Kushner's (which is to say Israel's) diplomacy has been to form a united political front between Israel and Arab despots who fear Iran and their own people and other Arabs and hope they will be more secure with hoards of sophisticated American and Israeli arms. Speaking of which, more on the Kushner deal:

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Smoke on the water, lies burning in the sky. Starts with a bunch of photos of what Oregon looks like these days.

Matt Stieb: Federal officials considered using a 'heat ray' against DC protesters.

Farah Stockman: What I learned from a list of Trump accomplishments: "Facts are vital. But they are not sufficient." An introduction and executive summary of A fact-checked list of Trump accomplishments, where the list itself "consisted of 123 bullet points posted on the Conservative Hangout Facebook page in May." The thing I found most interesting here is that in order to make Trump look good, the listers most often selected "facts" designed to make Trump look more liberal than he is. Liberals may be embarrassed about using the word to describe themselves, but conservatives are shameless in recognizing that liberal policies are more popular than their own -- hence the need to hide and lie about them.

Once you strip away the misleading claims from this list of accomplishments, you are left with what Mr. Trump has delivered: tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations -- No. 84. Deregulation for banks and businessmen -- No. 97. Judges for the evangelicals -- No. 109. Tariffs on Chinese steel for the steelworkers -- No. 113. And after those tariffs sparked a trade war, bailouts for farmers -- No. 72. He moved the embassy to Jerusalem, for conservative Jews and evangelicals -- No. 110.

To Mr. Trump's supporters, those are real accomplishments. But are they worth more than Mr. Trump's failures, during a deadly pandemic? More than his broken promises? More than what he has destroyed? That's the question facing voters in November. Maybe this list of his true accomplishments needs to be weighed against a list of what he has dismantled over these last four years. Anybody got one? I'd be happy to fact-check it.

Derek Thompson: The reason Trump isn't trying to save the economy: "He is stuck in a Pollyannaish fantasy of his own making."

Alex Ward: The bogus Steve Bannon-backed study claiming China created the coronavirus, explained.

Matthew Yglesias:

  • America needs a democratic revolution: "Fixing systemic inequities in voting power should be a high priority for Democrats." Sure, the Electoral College, the extreme rural skew of the Senate, the gerrymandering of House districts, are all structural defects that skew and deform democracy, but they are essentially impossible to fix without overhauling the Constitution, and that's impossible as long as one major party thinks those iniquities work in its favor, especially a party with no scruples for democratic process. By all means, feel free to shame the Republicans for attempting to undermine democracy and turn government into a self-perpetuating grift and patronage machine, but don't for a moment think Democrats can afford to wait until the structural problems are fixed before delivering better policy and service when and wherever they manage to win some power. Also, note that the biggest inequity in American politics isn't geographical. It is money, which cut across party lines deeply enough that Democrats in 2009 made no effort to limit campaign spending or lobbying, even though they had the presidency and large majorities in Congress. Sure, it's unfair that the Electoral College is so skewed that a Democrat might have to win the popular vote by more than 5% to break even, but presidential elections have swung as much as 22% (61%-39%). There's no reason Democrats can't formulate a winning campaign, especially given that Republicans seem to have deliberately chosen policies so extreme and unpopular they can only win by exploiting structural inequities. The Democrats' biggest problem has loss of credibility, caused by failing to deliver on the modest promises of their centrist leaders. Whining about how the system is stacked against them isn't a viable excuse. After all, stacked systems are something workers face every day. They don't need to be told the system is unfair. They need leaders who can challenge and beat it anyway.

  • "Reopening" isn't enough to save bars and restaurants -- the US needs a bailout.

Li Zhou:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Weekend Roundup

I picked this up on Facebook, forwarded by a couple of friends. I thought it might do more good here:

If you're active in the BLM movement (or even if you're just Black), you're getting posts on your feed about Biden and Harris's pro-police records.

If you're an environmentalist, you're getting posts on Biden's past support of fossil fuels.

If you're LGBT, you're reading articles about Harris defending California's policy of not providing gender reassignment surgery to trans inmates.

If you want universal health care, there's a post on your page about how Bernie was robbed and Biden is in Big Pharma's pocket.

If you're for immigrant rights, there is an article in your top 20 right now about Obama being the "deporter in chief."

This is especially true if you live in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Arizona.

None of these articles are wrong. Most of them lack context, and may err by omission, but they're not fake news. The organizations paying Facebook to show them to you, on the other hand, or paying "influencers" to share them . . . those are fake. They don't care about Black lives, or the environment, or trans people, or health care, or immigrants. They only want one thing.

They want you to not vote in November. Or vote third party, which is the same thing.

Whether it's a troll cubicle farm in Novgorod or a right wing think tank in Richmond, microtargeting allows them to aim directly at your feels and feed your outrage, disgust and sense of powerlessness.

They can't get you to vote for Trump, but they might get you to not vote against him.

Don't fall for it. Elect Biden. Flip the Senate. Then get back to work in 2021. Elect more Bernies and Warrens and AOCs and Jamaals in the primaries. Keep moving the Overton window. Scare the lukewarm Democrats you've just elected into doing the right thing. Hold Biden to the platform commitments he made to Sanders delegates, and push him to go beyond.

Because unlike Republicans, Democrats CAN be steered, persuaded, shamed, flattered, or convinced to take action. Obama didn't start out favoring gay marriage, or cannabis legalization. Hell, LBJ wasn't for desegregation, until he was.

Put Trump where he belongs, in the hands of the SDNY attorneys. Let Ruth Bader Ginsberg retire. Vote. And wear your mask. Thanks.

Copy. Paste. Speak the truth to the world.

We're less than two months away from the election. An insane amount of money is being raised and spent to sway that election, and it will be used to try to manipulate you in all kinds of ways. Beware that most of the money comes from rich people with their own private agendas -- indeed, a lot of it is coming through "dark money" fronts intended to avoid transparency and accountability. Misinformation and dirty tricks are likely to come so fast and furious you'll never be able to sort them out. On the other hand, you really only have to know a few things to decide this election: we live in a very complex world which requires expertise and trustworthiness to function; trust depends on respect and empathy for other people; a democratic government ("of, by, and for the people") is essential because it is the only basis for fair and just management of this complexity. Republicans have repeatedly failed to run competent government, partly because they are hold many people in contempt, and partly because they see political power only in terms of their ability to reward their donors and lock in their own power. While conservatives have failed for many years, they have rarely exposed their own incompetence as blatantly and hopelessly as they have under the leadership and direction of Donald Trump. He is a disaster and an embarrassment. He and his party deserve to be driven from the halls of power, and the only way to do that is to elect Democrats: Joe Biden for president, and the other Democrats running for Congress and state and local office. The more complete the rout, the better. It's easy to say this is the most important election of our lifetimes, but it may be more accurate to say that if we fail to take our country back this time, this may be one of the last chances we get.

Some scattered links this week:

Danielle Allen: The flawed genius of the Constitution: "The document counted my great-great-grandfather as three-fifths of a free person. But the Framers don't own the version we live by today. We do. The document is our responsibility now."

Nancy J Altman: Trump really does have a plan to destroy Social Security. The linchpin here is eliminating the payroll taxes that fund Social Security. Trump has already suspended collection of those taxes until the end of the year, producing a short-term stimulus and a slightly longer-term liability. The idea is that when the bill comes due, people will feel the pinch, and demand relief from the tax. As half of the tax is deducted from workers' checks, they would see a slight increase in take-home pay, but few would manage to save enough to make up for the eventual loss of retirement income. The other half is paid by companies, who could use the savings to pay workers more, but more likely will pocket the profit. Franklin Roosevelt thought that the regressive payroll tax would protect the program against predatory business efforts, but he didn't anticipate the short-sighted nihilism of Trump's generation. By the way, Glenn Kessler tries to argue that Trump has no such plan: see Biden campaign attacks a Trump Social Security 'plan' that does not exist. The gist of Kessler's argument seems to be that Trump says so many incoherent things, and does so little to clarify them, that you can't attribute anything as deliberate as a plan to him.

Kate Aronoff: Trump's fire sale of public lands for oil and gas drillers: "The Bureau of Land Management is rushing to auction off sites ahead of a potential Biden presidency."

Peter Baker: More than ever, Trump casts himself as the defender of White America.

Katrin Bennhold: Trump emerges as inspiration for Germany's far right.

Megan Cassella: 'A tale of 2 recessions': As rich Americans get richer, the bottom half struggles. This goes far in explaining why the Republicans have no interest in another stimulus bill, while the Democrats see the need for something much more dramatic:

Recent economic data and surveys have laid bare the growing divide. Americans saved a stunning $3.2 trillion in July, the same month that more than 1 in 7 households with children told the U.S. Census Bureau they sometimes or often didn't have enough food. More than a quarter of adults surveyed have reported paying down debt faster than usual, according to a new AP-NORC poll, while the same proportion said they have been unable to make rent or mortgage payments or pay a bill.

And while the employment rate for high-wage workers has almost entirely recovered -- by mid-July it was down just 1 percent from January -- it remains down 15.4 percent for low-wage workers, according to Harvard's Opportunity Insights economic tracker.

Zak Cheney-Rice: Police riots and the limits of electoral solutions.

Matthew Choi: Trump says Pentagon chiefs are accommodating weapons makers. Once in a while he goes off on an antiwar lark, without recognizing any discrepancy from his actual record. Related:

Jane Chong: Donald Trump, constitutional grift, and John Yoo: An overly long review of Yoo's Defender in Chief: Donald Trump's Fight for Presidential Power. You may remember Yoo as the lawyer in GW Bush's White House who came up with the most incredible legal rationalizations for Cheney's torture policy. "There isn't a lot more to Yoo's argument than his insistence that executive energy is a good and constitutional thing." Still, he usually waits until a Republican is in the White House before deciding for dictatorship.

Jane Coaston: The pro-Trump, anti-left Patriot Prayer group, explained.

Jelani Cobb: Our long, forgotten history of election-related violence: "President Trump has sparked dangerous lawlessness, but killing and destruction linked to political antagonisms are nothing new for this country." Still, I don't find it very reassuring that his first example dates from 1856.

Dan Diamond: Trump officials interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19: "The politically appointed HHS spokesperson and his team demanded and received the right to review CDC's scientific reports to health professionals."

Anne Diebel: Trumps on the couch: Review of Mary L Trump's Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man. Sooner or later, Donald Trump will no longer darken our doors, and from that point on I'll have no desire to ever read about him again. Indeed, the only one of a dozen books I've read to date that reveals much worth knowing about Trump is TV critic James Poniewozik's Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America, and that's because he bothered to sort out the meaning of so-called "reality TV" -- something I've never had the slightest interest in actually watching. The only other book that seems like it might be enlightening is his nieces's psychobiography, and that's largely because she takes a broader and deeper view of his family.

Jason Ditz: Biden says stay in Mideast, increase military spending: Well, that's not exactly what he said -- the only exact quote here is "forever wars have to end," but he isn't acknowledging that what makes them "forever" is America's military footprint in the Middle East. Ditz's subhed is also an exaggeration: "Biden wants to refocus on fighting Russia." He said that NATO has been "worried as hell about our failure to confront Russia," which could be ominous but is probably just a reflection on Trump's passive-aggressive stance. Still, statements like this give Trump some room to paint Biden as the warmonger in the campaign --l admittedly less credible than the same charge against Hillary Clinton, but the track record is that both have supported wars and the military pretty much in lockstep.

Nayantara Dutta: Neighbors are gathering online to give and get things they need right now: "In 'Buy Nothing' and gifting groups around the country, communities are connecting over free stuff." This is something I'd like to see happening, not least because I'm one of those guys (my wife calls us hoarders) who can't abide the idea of throwing things away that might be useful to other people, but who's too lazy to find people to give them to. I could imagine a neighborhood online exchange for browsing and ordering, with delivery so you don't have to go in to shop, and pickup of anything you care to pass on. You'd need a warehouse, a computer system, some sorters and deliverers, and someone would have to make decisions about recycling or trashing items that nobody wants. An open source software project could service many of these, and possibly add higher level interchanges to move surplus items into other locations with more needs. You could skim some stuff off to sell on the free market, and possibly finance some of the operation that way.

Steve Early/Suzanne Gordon: Under Trump, military veterans and service members have been 'losers': Trump's Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wants "to trim $2 billion allocated for direct care for 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees, and dependents over the next five years." Gordon is the author of a book, Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation's Veterans.

Tim Elfrink: Police shot Portland slaying suspect without warning or trying to arrest him first, witness says. Michael Reinoehl was a suspect in the shooting of a pro-Trump "Patriot Prayer" counter-protester in Portland, making it hard to determine whether the shooting had been in defense (of self or others). By the way, Aaron Rupar quotes Trum on this: "This guy was a violent criminal, and the US Marshals killed him. And I'll tell you something -- that's the way it has to be. There has to be retribution." The thread I pulled this from disputes that federal marshals were the ones who killed Reinoehl. Dean Baker comments further: "I guess courts and trials are too complicated for little Donnie Boy to understand." As Richard Silverstein summed up this story, Trump urges summary execution of protesters.

Tom Engelhardt: The great, great fall, or American carnage from a pandemic President.

John Feffer: Trump and the troops: "The alternative to Trump is not the glorification of military service. It's promoting the kind of service that gets fewer people killed."

Thomas Frank: We need to reclaim populism from the right. It has a long, proud leftwing history. Excerpt from Frank's recent book, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, which I recently read, and generally liked. As a Kansan, I've spent a fair amount of time reading about the People's Party, and for that matter the Socialist Party (which one had a significant foothold in southeast Kansas). I appreciate Frank's brief history of the 1896 and 1936 elections. I do, however, think that there is a significant difference between the "liberal anti-populists" Frank attacks in the modern Democratic Party and the "anti-populism" of 1896 and 1936, and that difference matters going forward. I'll also note that part of the problem in 1896 was that silver wasn't a very good answer to the deflationary pressures of the time -- the Greenback Party of the 1870s was actually on a better track.

Andrew Freedman/Timothy Bella: Western wildfires break records as devastating toll on lives and homes begins to emerge.

Stanley B Greenberg: How Trump is losing his base: "Focus groups with working-class and rural voters show the deep health care crisis in America, and trouble for Trump's re-election." Makes sense, but the polls are showing Trump has a very consistent level of support, so if he's losing base votes, how is he compensating? Alexander Sammon argues that Trump's making up his losses among seniors with Latino votes -- see: The Biden-Trump demographic switcheroo.

Sue Halpern: How the Trump campaign's mobile app is collecting massive amounts of voter data. I didn't even know such a thing existed, but of course it does -- Biden has one, also, and the contrast is revealing:

By contrast, the new Biden app still collects data on users, but it outlines the specific uses of that data and doesn't automatically collect the e-mail and phone numbers of users' friends and family. "Unlike the Biden app, which seeks to provide users with awareness and control of the specific uses of their data, the Trump app collects as much as it can using an opt-out system and makes no promises as to the specific uses of that data," Samuel Woolley, the director of the propaganda research project at the University of Texas's Center for Media Engagement, told me. "They just try to get people to turn over as much as possible."

Also note:

The policy also notes that the campaign will be collecting information gleaned from G.P.S. and other location services, and that users will be tracked as they move around the Internet. Users also agree to give the campaign access to the phone's Bluetooth connection, calendar, storage, and microphone, as well as permission to read the contents of their memory card, modify or delete the contents of the card, view the phone status and identity, view its Wi-Fi connections, and prevent the phone from going to sleep. These permissions give the Trump data operation access to the intimate details of users' lives, the ability to listen in on those lives, and to follow users everywhere they go. It's a colossal -- and essentially free -- data-mining enterprise. As Woolley and his colleague Jacob Gursky wrote in MIT Technology Review, the Trump 2020 app is "a voter surveillance tool of extraordinary power."

I learned this firsthand after downloading the Trump 2020 app on a burner phone I bought in order to examine it, using an alias and a new e-mail address. Two days later, the President sent me a note, thanking me for joining his team. Lara Trump invited me (for a small donation) to become a Presidential adviser. Eric Trump called me one of his father's "FIERCEST supporters from the beginning." But the messages I began getting from the Trump campaign every couple of hours were sent not only to the name and address I'd used to access the app. They were also sent to the e-mail address and name associated with the credit card I'd used to buy the phone and its SIM card, neither of which I had shared with the campaign. Despite my best efforts, they knew who I was and where to reach me.

Rebecca Heilweil: Right-wing media thrives on Facebook. Whether it rules is more complicated.

Patrick Hingsley: Fire destroys most of Europe's largest refugee camp, on Greek island of Lesbos.

Umair Irfan: The orange skies and smoky air from Western wildfires, explained: "Air pollution may be the most dangerous element of the massive fires." Also: "Unprecedented": What's behind the California, Oregon, and Washington wildfires. More:

John Ismay: At least 37 million people have been displaced by America's War on Terror: A new report from Brown University's Costs of War project. "That figure exceeds those displaced by conflict since 1900, the authors say, with the exception of World War II." Also:

Sarah Jeong: The Battle of Portland: "How mass protests against racist police brutality sparked a historic federal crackdown on dissent." Extensive report.

The responsibility to de-escalate the conflict lay on the side that had the guns, rather than the side that was hurling eggs by the carton. But the feds were being directed by officials who were ranting at Congress about violent anarchists and a president who was calling the dweebiest city in America a "beehive of terrorists."

Fred Kaplan: Is America in the early stages of armed insurgency? Counterinsurgency strategist David Kilcullen thinks so. I think there is a lot of potential for isolated violence from the right, certainly if Trump loses, perhaps as likely if he wins. The big uncertainty is how Trump, Republicans, and their propaganda network responds to the violence -- the full-throated support given for Kyle Rittenhouse is chilling, even hard to imagine a mere four years ago.

Aishvarya Kavi: 5 takeaways from Rage, Bob Woodward's new book about Trump: Bob Woodward's second book on Trump drops on Sept. 15, so the press is awash with publicity leaks. Like 2018's Fear, was based on personal interviews, its title reduced to a four-letter word the subject can relate to. This seems like the piece to start with. The big revelation appears to be that Trump was able to speak knowledgeably and coherently about the coronavirus threat in early February, at a time when he was downplaying it publicly and doing nothing to reduce the threat. Many people blame Woodward for not reporting what he knew at the time, suggesting the news might have helped save lives. Of course, saving lives isn't Woodward's idea of good journalism. Selling books is. Here are Kavi's 5 takeaways:

  • Mr. Trump minimized the risks of the coronavirus to the American public early in the year.
  • Two of the president's top officials thought he was "dangerous" and considered speaking out publicly. Jim Mattis and Dan Coats. "Ultimately neither official spoke out."
  • Mr. Trump repeatedly denigrated the U.S. military and his top generals.
  • When asked about the pain "Black people feel in this country," Mr. Trump was unable to express empathy.
  • Mr. Woodward gained insight into Mr. Trump's relationship with the leaders of North Korea and Russia.

Offhand, I wouldn't rate any of these are breakthrough insights, but that's about par for Woodward, who regularly gets too close to his subjects to see them clearly. Other Rage pieces:

Ibram X Kendi: The violent defense of white male supremacy.

Glenn Kessler: Trump keeps bragging about imaginary auto plants in swing states.

Jen Kirby: The UK threatens to renege on the Brexit deal it signed with the EU just a year ago.

Ezra Klein: Black Republicans, Donald Trump, and America's "George Floyd moment": Interview with historian Leah Wright Rigueur, author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican.

John Knefel: Police and racist vigilantes: Even worse than you think.

Nicholas Kristof: 'We're no. 28! And dropping!': "A measure of social progress finds that the quality of life has dropped in America over the last decade, even as it has risen almost everywhere else."

The newest Social Progress Index, shared with me before its official release Thursday morning, finds that out of 163 countries assessed worldwide, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than when the index began in 2011. And the declines in Brazil and Hungary were smaller than America's.

"The data paint an alarming picture of the state of our nation, and we hope it will be a call to action," Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor and the chair of the advisory panel for the Social Progress Index, told me. "It's like we're a developing country."

The index, inspired by research of Nobel-winning economists, collects 50 metrics of well-being -- nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education and more -- to measure quality of life. Norway comes out on top in the 2020 edition, followed by Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. South Sudan is at the bottom, with Chad, Central African Republic and Eritrea just behind.

What Brazil and Hungary have in common with the US is far-right government. That they've suffered a bit less than the US is probably because those far-right governments have been hegemonic for shorter times: the US has been controlled by conservative Republicans (and the occasional ineffective neoliberal Democrat) since 1980, so inequality has progressed further, especially in eating into the social fabric. Porter is wrong to say the US is like "a developing country." Developing countries are developing -- making progress, even if fitfully. The US is a devolving country, its industries devoured by predatory capitalists, its workers marginalized, its society wracked by fear and loathing. It's still in the top quarter of the list, because it was once on top, but declining steadily -- maybe never to the point of the bottom rung, of countries that aren't even developing. They are mired in war, which is even more corrosive than private equity. On the other hand, the right's fascination with guns and private militias suggests that too could befall us.

Paul Krugman:

Claire Lampen: The Justice Department is reportedly trying to shield Trump from a rape lawsuit. E Jean Carroll claims that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room 25 years ago. She sued Trump for libel, and a court ordered him to provide a DNA sample and deposition. The DOJ intervention has stopped the case, at least for now.

Rob Larson: A quick guide to what is going on with the economy: A pretty substantial review up through July.

Eric Levitz:

  • The conservative case for organized labor: Interview with Oren Cass, a former Mitt Romney adviser who runs the think tank American Compass. Occasionally you run across Republican operatives who think that the Party needs to provide some economic aid for its working class voters, but those aren't the conservative ideologues who control the party. On the other hand, I don't see labor leaders abandoning their agenda to use government to extend worker rights -- unlike Samuel Gompers, who before the New Deal opposed laws regulating things like child labor because he felt they disincentivized workers from joining his union. One can imagine a few conservatives accepting unions as preferale to government regulation, but only the most elite-oriented unions are willing to overlook masses of non-union workers dragging the labor market down. And most conservatives are so invested in the notion that owners should wield absolute power that they're unwilling to consider any kind of power-sharing arrangement. Also note:

  • The GOP is no longer the pro-business party. Levitz is one of New York most dependable left-wing writers, so he's on a rather strange kick now. But sure, business has actually done much better with Democratic presidents than with Republican ones. Clinton was especially proud of that fact, and that's probably why they feel so good about raking in all those lucrative speaking deals. It's also true that Obama, Hillary Clinton, and now Biden have been raising more money than their Republican opponents. On the other hand, Republicans still have a lot of business support, especially in old, reactionary and/or predatory industries, especially among capitalists who are more focused on power than wealth.

    To be sure, Trump has done a great deal to benefit corporate America's incumbent executives, especially those looking to maximize their own wealth in the run-up to retirement. Through his regressive-tax cuts and deregulatory measures, the president has saved major U.S. firms and their shareholders a bundle. The nation's six largest banks alone have pocketed $32 billion as a consequence of Trump's policies. And for America's most socially irresponsible enterprises, this administration has been a true godsend. Since taking power, the Trump White House has, among other things, expanded the liberty of coal companies to dump mining waste in streams, pushed to preserve the rights of retirement advisers to gamble with their clients' money, freed employers from the burden of logging all workplace injuries, and ended discrimination against serial labor-law violators in the bidding process for government contracts.

    But the Republican Party is too corrupted by rentier and extractive industries -- and too besotted with conservative economic orthodoxy -- to advance the long-term best interests of American capital. . . .

    Contra ruling-class reactionaries' self-flattering dogmas, private enterprise is -- and always has been -- reliant on competent statecraft. Conservatives recognize capital's reliance on "big government" in the realm of military defense. But in the Anthropocene, emergent diseases and climate change pose at least as large a threat to capital accumulation as any hostile foreign power. Meanwhile, in a globalized economy beset by chronic shortfalls of demand and periodic financial shocks, the GOP's resilient skepticism about economic stimulus renders the party an uncertain friend to corporate America in its times of need. Granted, the party has largely fulfilled its duty to reflate asset prices and shore up credit markets this year. But the strength of the recovery (such as it is) is at least partly attributable to policies that originated with Democrats, and which the GOP accepted only grudgingly in March and has since refused to renew. As is, there is every reason to think that American businesses (especially small ones) would be better off if Pelosi's caucus could set fiscal policy by fiat.

Martin Longman: We can't endure much more bad leadership. He starts with some examples of how little decisions by leaders add up, for some reason starting with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and tracing from there through 9/11 and the Global War on Terror -- things which indeed reflect bad leadership but really have more proximate causes. Trump gets several mentions later on, but his real example is SD governor Kristi Noem's decision not to cancel the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis. The result:

Nineteen percent of the 1.4 million new coronavirus cases in the U.S. between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2 can be traced back to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held in South Dakota, according to researchers from San Diego State University's Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies.

That's more than 266,000 cases, with a public health cost of $12.2 billion. As for Trump, he's not just a bad leader in the sense that Clinton, the Bushes, and even Obama were -- by following conventional political "wisdom" into one cul de sac after another. He's bad on an absolutely cosmic scale. He's seeded the government with mini-versions of himself: pompous, arrogant, corrupt, vain, and stupid, and led them to believe that they are protected from legal and political consequences (even though he's ultimately had to fire many of them). One can imagine an inept leader surviving on the competencies of his staff, but Trump precluded that possibility both through his staffing -- sure, Pence was responsible for most of them, but over time Trump has managed to weed out most of the ones who weren't sufficiently sycophantic (or for that matter psycho) -- but also by insisting that nothing is real but in terms of its us-vs-them political impact. Trump's instinct was to look only at the political implications of coronavirus, to see how he could use it as a tool of divide and conquer. As such, he inevitably politicized things like mask wearing that most leaders would have taken pains to depoliticize. Longman stresses that many times he's argued that we need better leaders. What's more clear is that we need less bad leaders -- leaders who can put aside their political angles when the events dictate otherwise. However, Trump has gone way beyond such concepts as good and not bad. The problem with Trump's leadership is not just that it's bad; it's that he's so embarrassingly incompetent he's a distraction from everything.

German Lopez:

Bruno Maçães: How fantasy triumphed over reality in American politics. Author has a new book, History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America, from which this is adapted. He is stuck with the idea of a "new world order," and flat out declares "the proposition that the whole planet is on a course to embrace Western liberalism is no longer credible," but doesn't seem to have any better suggestions. He is right that in voting for Reagan in 1980 America turned away from the limits of the real world and decided to live in a fantasy -- one that's become progressively desperate as evidenced by Trump's "make America great again."

Amanda Marcotte: Trump, you're no FDR or Winston Churchill -- but you're a lot like Charles Lindbergh: "Trump defends coronavirus lies to comparing himself to wartime leaders -- but he's closer to the Nazi apologists." This doesn't mention Nick Adams's recent book, Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization, which is ridiculous enough (on both counts) to need no review, nor does it mention Fred Trump's attachment to Lindbergh's "America First" movement (although it does note Donald Trump's use of the slogan and penchant for evoking fascist memes).

Perhaps the difference between the two men is that Lindbergh, as despicable a person as he may have been, became famous for doing something that required courage, intelligence and skill, which was to become the first person to fly an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean.

Trump, on the other hand, has spent his life bouncing from one failed venture to another, cheating and grifting to create the illusion of enormous wealth and great success. And so while Lindbergh eventually had to concede reality, Trump will never quit believing he can flim-flam his way through this crisis, no matter how many corpses pile up in his wake.

Nolan D McCaskill: Trump team says history will vindicate him on coronavirus: "Top advisers blame everyone but the president for the nation's plight during the pandemic."

Media Matters: This group watches Fox News so you don't have to. I'm convinced that nothing affects politics more these days than Fox's hermetically sealed alternate universe. I saw Matt Taibbi complain recently that MSNBC is "even more partisan" than Fox, and that nearly everyone who says they trust the New York Times for news identifies as a Democrat, but the latter at least doesn't try to lock their readers in a bubble of misinformation. (I watch so little MSNBC I can't really speak of them.) Some recent headlines give you a taste both of what Trump says and (more importantly) what he hears:

Ian Millhiser:

Tom Nichols: This Republican Party is not worth saving: "No one should ever get a second chance to destroy the Constitution."

Timothy Noah: Trump's OSHA is fining companies pennies for pandemic violations.

Olivia Nuzzi: There's still a reason for Trump rallies, for Trump at least: "The MAGA rallies -- which aren't technically MAGA rallies -- are helping the president workshop his campaign message in real time."

The rallies are a salve for the Tinkerbell syndrome that afflicts the president. He is first a showman, and his connection with an audience is life-sustaining -- a source of dopamine and a form of catharsis more powerful than any grenade-throwing exercise of a tweet. And they provide him with a sort of spiritual poll: a sense of how things are going, based on his animalistic crowd-aura-reading abilities.

On the other hand, you have to wonder about the quality of feedback he's getting from the small minority of Americans who adore him enough to risk their lives to gratify his ego.

Listening to him, it can sound like he's been unable to make sense of what has happened in America under his watch.

"This is the most important election in the history of our country. I wouldn't say that lightly," he said. "And frankly, I thought the last one was, and I said it, but they've gone to a level that nobody even thought possible. These people have gotten stone-cold crazy."

Antonio Olivo/Nick Miroff: ICE flew detainees to Virginia so the planes could transport agents to DC protests. A huge coronavirus outbreak followed.

George Packer: Are we on the cusp of an era of radical reform that repairs America's broken democracy? Alternate title: America's plastic hour is upon us.

Beneath the dreary furor of the partisan wars, most Americans agree on fundamental issues facing the country. Large majorities say that government should ensure some form of universal health care, that it should do more to mitigate global warming, that the rich should pay higher taxes, that racial inequality is a significant problem, that workers should have the right to join unions, that immigrants are a good thing for American life, that the federal government is plagued by corruption. These majorities have remained strong for years. The readiness, the demand for action, is new.

What explains it? Nearly four years of a corrupt, bigoted, and inept president who betrayed his promise to champion ordinary Americans. The arrival of an influential new generation, the Millennials, who grew up with failed wars, weakened institutions, and blighted economic prospects, making them both more cynical and more utopian than their parents. Collective ills that go untreated year after year, so bone-deep and chronic that we assume they're permanent -- from income inequality, feckless government, and police abuse to a shredded social fabric and a poisonous public discourse that verges on national cognitive decline. Then, this year, a series of crises that seemed to come out of nowhere, like a flurry of sucker punches, but that arose straight from those ills and exposed the failures of American society to the world.

Alex Pareene: What if Democrats just promised to make things work again? "It's actually a rarity to hear a politician explicitly promise to govern effectively." "Most Americans, like most people, simply want things to work."

Martin Pengelly:

Cameron Peters:

  • Trump's Nevada rally was an exercise in delegitimizing voting -- and denying reality: "Trump keeps holding probable superspreader events in the middle of a pandemic."

  • Why Mike Bloomberg plans to spend $100 million boosting Biden in Florida. Nothing to get excited about here -- no one has done more to discredit the idea of money's ability to influence elections than Bloomberg, but the main thing his spending couldn't overcome was the inherent weakness of the messenger. On the other hand, one could argue that his spending was very effective at getting people to vote for Joe Biden, who not only handily beat Bloomberg but won a bunch of states he didn't seriously campaign in. Florida was one of those states -- a particularly important one. Personally, I have no faith Florida will ever do the right thing, but it offers Bloomberg an opportunity to earn some favors with Biden. One thing about Bloomberg is that his motives are pretty transparent: he hates the left much more than he's bothered by the Republicans, and sees centrist Democrats as a much more effective prophylactic against popular revolt threatening his class privileges. If billionaires like Bloomberg can't deliver the presidency to Biden, their future in the Democratic Party will be as tarnished as Hillary Clinton's. Also see: Dexter Filkins: Who gets to vote in Florida? One reason Florida disappoints so often is that Republican jiggering of the election process there is often decisive. While there is little doubt that Republicans will try to cheat everywhere they can this year, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, and (of course) Florida are exceptionally vulnerable.

Lili Pike: China has quietly vaccinated more than 100,000 people for Covid-19 before completing safety trials. China was the first nation hit by Covid-19, and from that point seemed (to me, at least) likely to be the first nation to get a grip on the disease, possibly gaining some sort of strategic advantage vs. other countries (especially given the US obsession with "intellectual property" rents). Looking back, China was remarkably effective at containing the virus, with per capita infection rates so low one wonders if they've fudged the numbers. But also, unlike the US, the Chinese government retains the ability and will to direct private industry to further public goals, so they can pursue things like vaccine development much more aggressively than others can. Also, given their closed political system, they have little motivation to publicize developments before they are known to work -- compare to Trump's promises on a vaccine before the end of the year, or his touting of a plasma treatment that hadn't been cleared. So it's not a surprise that China seems to have jumped into the lead on vaccine development -- just news. Also, this should give you pause when thinking about Trump's plans for an "America first" vaccine controlled by corporate behemoths. From its inception, Covid-19 was a world pandemic, which demanded full international cooperation. Trump has repeatedly sabotaged that, and the US has suffered a lot as a result, and we're likely to suffer even more.

Paul R Pillar: Putting America on the wrong side of war crimes.

Michael Rea: How the evangelical movement became Trump's "bitch" -- and yes, I know what that word signifies: "As an evangelical myself, I can see how far the movement has sunk -- even to betraying its own ideal of masculinity."

James Risen: Senate report shows what Mueller missed about Trump and Russia. Also:

David Roberts: What's causing climate change, in 10 charts.

Nathan J Robinson: The case for degrowth: When the shutdowns happened back in March, a friend asked whether they would force us to start thinking about degrowth. The concept has been floating around for a while. Indeed, it's almost inevitable once you consider the impossibility of infinite economic growth, but it also builds on critiques of GDP -- turns out that measuring all economic activity fails to recognize any difference in value between activities (like building a house, or blowing one up and having to build another -- the latter produces more GDP, but one less house). Robinson reviews Jason Hickel's new book: Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World, and also spend considerable time with Mariana Mazzucato's The Value of Everything.

Philip Rucker/Josh Dawsey/Yasmeen Abutaleb: Trump fixates on the promise of a vaccine -- real or not -- as key to reelection bid.

Aaron Rupar:

Robert J Samuelson: Goodbye, readers, and good luck -- you'll need it: "What 50 years of writing about economics has taught me." Not much. He's been a hedgehog, his one big idea that inflation is bad. I read his book, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath, where he insisted that the inflation of the 1970s was even worse than the depression of the 1930s. My parents lived through both, and while they may have been luckier than some in the 1970s, their view was the exact opposite. Perhaps because they learned to avoid debt and save in the 1930s they saw nothing but benefits from the 1970s: their costs were manageable (no debt, not even a mortgage), my father's wages grew substantially (thank God for unions), and their savings reaped pretty high interest (without having to become criminals). Samuelson's last piece before this one was Don't forget about inflation. I thought about complaining about it at the time but didn't, so when I saw this one, I figured I'd best get my last word in. I was pointed to this one by Alex Pareene, who tweeted: "this guy sucks and in incalculable but significant ways has made the future worse for all of us with his bad ideas and arguments dating back decades." Pareene also referred me to Brad DeLong: Carbon blogging/Robert J Samuelson is a bad person.

Jeff Satterwhite: The right-wing worldview is one of scarecrows and scapegoats. Argues that conservatives obsess over three "scarecrows": They will take out safety; They will take our liberty; They will take our culture. He doesn't offer a list of "scapegoats"; presumably they is all you need to know.

Jon Schwarz: 3,000 dead on 9/11 meant everything. 200,000 dead of Covid-19 means nothing. Here's why. "To America's leaders, our lives have value only insofar as they can be used to create a desired panic." Schwarz gives a number of examples of what were called cassus belli events -- excuses for launching wars. He mentions, for instance, the "Tonkin Gulf Incident" where US ships were fired on by North Vietnamese, but no one was injured. He doesn't mention Israel's sinking of a US ship during the 1968 Six Day War, where all Americans on board perished, but that wasn't a cassus belli, because the US had no desire to fight Israel.

Bush wanted a pretext to do a lot of things that were unnecessary, while Trump wanted an excuse to do nothing when, in fact, a lot really needed to be done.

Liliana Segura: Trump's execution spree continues at federal killing ground in Indiana: "More federal executions have been carried out in 2020 than in the past 57 years combined."

Adam Serwer: Will the United States belatedly fulfill its promise as a multiracial democracy?

Surveying the protests, Trump saw a path to victory in Nixon's footsteps: The uprisings of 2020 could rescue him from his catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. The president leaned into his own "law and order" message. He lashed out against "thugs" and "terrorists," warning that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Ahead of what was to be his comeback rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, Trump tweeted, "Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis" -- making no distinction between those protesting peacefully and those who might engage in violence.

In this, Trump was returning to a familiar playbook. He was relying on the chaos of the protests to produce the kind of racist backlash that he had ridden to the presidency in 2016. Trump had blamed the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri -- a response to the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer -- on Barack Obama's indulgence of criminality. "With our weak leadership in Washington, you can expect Ferguson type riots and looting in other places," Trump predicted in 2014. As president, he saw such uprisings as deliverance.

Then something happened that Trump did not foresee. It didn't work.

Trump was elected president on a promise to restore an idealized past in which America's traditional aristocracy of race was unquestioned. But rather than restore that aristocracy, four years of catastrophe have -- at least for the moment -- discredited it.

Christianna Silva/James Doubek: Fascism scholas says US is 'losing its democratic status': Interview with Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. I've read that book and think it's pretty good, finding a middle ground between accounts which take a overly strict historical definition (like Robert Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism) and leftists (like myself) who instantly smell fascism in every form of right-wing reaction. The NPR article links to Elias Bures: Don't call Donald Trump a fascist, which reviews Stanley's book and others (including one of Dinesh D'Souza's most ridiculous ones, accusing the left of fascism -- a trope Jonah Goldberg beat to death in Liberal Fascism). I think it depends a lot of who you're talking to. Many of us older folk on the left have a deep understanding of fascism, which provides a ready framework for recognizing much of what Trump and other conservatives say and do. Moreover, some Trump artifacts (like his ads where all the "bad guys" are Jews) echo fascist memes much too closely for comfort. On the other hand, more (mostly younger) people don't, in which case this quickly devolves to name-calling (which is all it ever was to Goldberg and D'Souza). Were I to construct a 0-10 F-Scale for how fascist politicians are, I'd peg Reagan and the Bushes in the 3-5 range, and Trump more like 7-8: too low to be a precise definition, but high enough one can't help but think about it. For a taste, here are some recent links that use the F-word:

Phillip Smith: Oregon is on the cusp of a major drug reform: Decriminalizing everything. It's likely that the number of states where marijuana is legal will increase this year, as it has nearly every election since Colorado voters approved. It's an easy call, given that it's arguably more benign than already legal alcohol and tobacco. Other drugs are a harder call, but prohibition hasn't worked any better with them than it did with alcohol or marijuana. I would go further than this proposal, but it's still much better than any state has yet done.

Roger Sollenberger: Tucker Carlson: "If we're going to survive as a country, we must defeat" Black Lives Matter: Excuse me, but what the fuck does this mean? What can "defeat" possibly mean? Arrest all the leaders and supporters of BLM? Wouldn't that just incite more people to pick up the struggle? What about anyone who even sympathizes with the notion that black people deserve the same rights and respect enjoyed by whites? Even if somehow you managed to do that, what kind of country would you have left? One with more people in jail than out? One the rest of the world -- which in case you haven't noticed is mostly non-white -- regards as an unspeakably vile rogue nation? Or maybe Carlson would be satisfied just to acquit all the cops who kill unarmed blacks, and beat back every effort to "defund" or otherwise reform the police? Wouldn't that just make BLM seem more important and more necessary than ever? The only way movements rooted in a fundamental quest for justice go away is when they achieve all or at least a significant chunk of their goals. Racist rants, even from perches like Fox News, just add to the conviction that movements like BLM are necessary.

Emily Stewart: Give everybody the internet. I agree, and would go a bit further. We also need public options to compete against all of the major commercial aps on the internet.

Matt Stieb:

Peter Stone: How William Barr is weaponizing the Justice Department to help Trump win.

David Swanson: In memoriam: Kevin Zeese is irreplaceable. Zeese, an activist lawyer, died last week. Includes some links, including two pieces co-authored by Margaret Flowers: We're in a recession, and it's likely to get worse (Mar. 19), and We don't have to choose between our health and the economy (May 19).

Astra Taylor: The end of the university: "The pandemic should force America to remake higher education."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: How Trump could win: "The President consistently trails Joe Biden in polls, but political strategists from both parties suggest that he still has routes to reëlection." On the one hand, they're fucking with you. On the other, we have so little faith in our fellow voters, in the media that feeds them misinformation, and in the arcane system they have to navigate in order to vote, that we're full of doubts, and the fear of getting this wrong can be all-consuming.

Alex Ward:

Libby Watson:

  • Covid patients are receiving eye-popping bills. It's not all Trump's fault. "even a well-crafted plan would have been no match for our inept health care system."

  • The two Joe Bidens: "One talks of an 'FDR-size presidency,' the other works to calm Wall Street nerves. Which one will create the post-pandemic future?" The one that gets elected? Otherwise, do we even have a future?

  • America's callous indifference to death: "The Covid-19 pandemic serves as a reminder that even in an election year, our politics are ideologically predisposed to a malign neglect."

    Just two years ago, a hurricane in Puerto Rico killed at least as many people as died on 9/11, and our government's response was pathetic. The help provided has never come close to matching the need: As of July, the "first major program to rebuild houses hasn't completed a single one even though tens of thousands of homes still have damaged roofs nearly three years after Maria," according to NBC. Such neglect might be familiar to people in North Carolina or Texas, where people who had not yet recovered from one hurricane were upended again by another just a year or two later.

    The implication here is that government responded to 9/11 but not to "natural" disasters. True that victims of 9/11 received relatively generous compensation, but the overwhelming majority of what was spent following 9/11 did its victims no good whatsoever, and most of it created further problems -- even the toll of American soldiers killed in the subsequent wars far exceeded the number killed by terrorists, and the money spent, which gained us nothing, could have been put to good use at home. Politicians respond to deaths when it suits them, in ways that suit them.

Joshua Yaffa: Is Russian meddling as dangerous as we think? "The spectre of foreign manipulation looms over the coming election. But in focusing on the tactics of the aggressors we overlook out weaknesses as victims."

Jia Lynn Yang: Are we more divided now than ever before? Review of James A Morone's new book, Republic of Wrath: How American Politics Turned Tribal, From George Washington to Donald Trump. The two-party system has always been tribal, and always polarizing, but what's happened recently is that since 1980 the division has become increasingly right vs left. Before it was not uncommon to see greater diversity within a major party than between presidential candidates, but that started to change in 1980 when conservatives took over the Republican Party and won the presidency, using that success to sweep up all conservatives among Democrats. That was a winning formula for a while, but eventually turned GOP moderates into Democrats, and pushed the Democratic Party leftward (although so far you cannot say the left has come close to capturing the Democratic Party).

Matthew Yglesias:

Yglesias, by the way, has a new book, One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. For a review, see:

Li Zhou: The Senate just failed to pass more stimulus amid a struggling economy. Here's why. "Republicans were simply using the vote to send a message."

Further notes:

From Twitter:

  • Sahil Kapur: It is remarkable how thoroughly "repeal and replace Obamacare" has been exposed as a policy mirage, after hundreds of millions of dollars poured into an assault that shaped countless elections and helped define U.S. politics in the 2010s.

  • Mike Konczal: A bugaboo of mine: there is no noteworthy insider-access or policy-friendly conservative reporting, research, or books on why this collapsed in 2017. There's no Jacob S Hacker's Road to Nowhere[: The Genesis of President Clinton's Plan for Health Security] equivalent. Just nothing.

    There are dozens of reports on why cap-and-trade failed in 2010, marquee ones that break into schools of thought of where to go next.

    It's just silence on the Right. The two major recent initiatives, Social Security privatization and ACA repeal, gone as if they never existed.

Jacob Hacker later tweeted:

For what it's worth, Paul Pierson & I did write out own post-mortem -- though it's definitely not an insider-access or policy-friendly conservative account: The Dog That Almost Barked: What the ACA Repeal Fight Says about the Resilience of the American Welfare State.

From Michael Hull, on Twitter:

OTD 49 years ago the State of New York murdered 39 people at Attica prison.

They planned the brutality, tortured the survivors, and began destroying evidence the same day.

They've denied it for decades, but I got pictures.

The video will be posted to my Vimeo page and available for download by anyone who wants it.

That's the goal - we want writers, artists, thinkers, people of all disciplines and representing every pocket of society to use this material as a vehicle to talk about their town.

It's time for the rebellion and retaking at Attica prison to be reconsidered through the lens of the modern abolitionist movement. It's time for more people to have their say on this brutal event.

It's time for New York to stop hiding this evidence.

Mike also has a Facebook page on the archive and his movie based on the archive, Surrender Peacefully: The Attica Massacre, with a link to the trailer.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

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