Weekend Roundup [0 - 9]

Monday, January 25, 2021


Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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


Table of contents:


Exit Trump

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


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

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

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

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

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

Christina Cauterucci: What Donald Trump did to DC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Millhiser:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Rupar:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan K Stack: The week the Trump supporters disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Biden

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


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

Katelyn Burns:

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Narea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Perez/Julia Rock:

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

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

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

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

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

Covid-19

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

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


German Lopez:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ward:

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

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

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

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

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

And Everything Else

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fabiola Cineas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Pearis: Here are your Bernie Sanders music memes.

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 18, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Again failed to wrap this up on Sunday. Even a day late, I'm faced with a choice between cutting it loose now or writing some introductory comments, which I actually had given some thought to. I think I'll cut it loose, if for no other reason than that Tuesday promises to reveal a hundred-plus pardons for the highest bidders -- yet another story one can't omit. Then on Wednesday, Trump will supposedly fly off for Florida, while Biden is inaugurated in a secure bunker in Washington, DC, to be witnessed by crowds even smaller than Trump's in 2016. I guess he gets the last laugh on that score.

Congress reconvenes on Tuesday, so conceivably the Senate could vote to convict and remove Trump, although no one expects that to actually happen. Of course, I sympathize with Charles Pierce: Donald Trump cannot be allowed to be the President* of the United States for a single second longer, but I'm used to disappointments in political life, and I'm patient enough to give Trump one last day in office, knowing that will be the end of it, and thinking rationally that even though he could do something truly horrific with that day, most likely he'll dedicate it to graft and ego-stroking.

Nothing below on Martin Luther King Day. I wasn't even aware of the holiday until I leafed through the paper this morning. By then, I had put two discs from Rhino's superlative The R&B Box into the changer. They were brilliant, and I was deeply touched by the occasion. It reminded me that a huge slice of what's great and glorious in America has been the work of African-Americans. While music has long stood out among those contributions, the one I'm even more thankful for today was providing the margin to defeat Donald Trump. Black lives not only matter; they're often our salvation.


Insurrection

I originally thought I'd combine insurrection and impeachment into a single section, but a quick glance at the first batch of articles suggested splitting them. Although insurrection led to impeachment, the latter was narrowly political, based on the House Democrats' slim majority and their felt compulsion to do what they could when they could to register how profoundly they were unsettled by the president's mob's violent uprising against democracy. If Democrats didn't have a House majority, they wouldn't have impeached Trump, no matter how much they wanted to. And, as usual, impeachment is little more than a hollow political gesture. On the other hand, the insurrection was rooted in a broader conception of politics, rooted in the "culture war" Trump has spent his entire political career stoking. Moreover, insurrection is still ongoing, as the planned "demonstrations" in DC and at 50 state capitols attests. Moreover, there is no reason to doubt that the hard core of pro-Trump militants will stop after January 20. Many of these same people were responsible for the uptick of right-wing violence after Obama was elected in 2008. They became Trump's people in 2016, and he has done nothing but encourage them over the last four years. They started forming militias by the 1980s and 1990s, so expect some of them to go underground and dedicate themselves to guerrilla war against the democratic state and its soft targets. Therefore, we need to look at last week's insurrection as a prelude not just to this week's but to months and years of "domestic terrorism" if not outright civil war.

Devlin Barrett/Matt Zapotosky: FBI report warned of 'war' at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence.

Dalton Bennett, et al: 41 minutes of fear: A video timeline from inside the Capitol siege.

Miriam Berger: US pundits keep comparing Washington to a war zone. People who know war disagree.

Kyle Cheney/Sarah Ferris: Mikie Sherrill says unidentified lawmakers led 'reconnaissance' tours ahead of Capitol attack.

Sean Collins: Lawmakers are testing positive for Covid-19 after the Capitol lockdown: "At least five."

Jesselyn Cook/Nick Robins-Early: Online police communities are rife with conspiracies and support for the Capitol riot.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook: Arizone GOP chair urged violence at the Capitol. The Mercers spent $1.5 million supporting her.

Jerusalem Demsas: The online far right is angry, exultant, and ready for more.

Elizabeth Dias/Ruth Graham: How white evangelical Christians fused with Trump extremism: "A potent mix of grievance and religious fervor has turbocharged the support among Trump loyalists, many of whom describe themselves as participants in a kind of holy war."

Matt Fuller: House Democrats briefed on 3 terrifying plots to overthrow government.

Hilary George-Parkin: Insurrection merch shows just how mainstream extremism has become.

Fiona Hill: Yes, it was a coup attempt. Here's why. "What Trump tried is called a "self-coup," and he did it in slow motion and in plain sight."

Mara Hvistendahl: Capitol mob has roots in anti-lockdown protests: "Reopen and anti-mask groups were a crucial recruiting ground for the 'Stop the Steal' effort that culminated in last week's deadly siege."

Joshua Kaplan/Joaquin Sapien: "No one took us seriously": Black cops warned about racist Capitol police officers for years.

Kimberly Kindy/Kim Bellware/Mark Berman: Off-duty police were part of the Capitol mob. Now police are turning in their own.

Paul Krugman:

  • This putsch was decades in the making: "GOP cynics have been coddling crazies for a long time."

    This coddling of the crazies was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the G.O.P. began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic -- what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.

    Not incidentally, white supremacy has always been sustained in large part through voter suppression. So it shouldn't be surprising to see right-wingers howling about a rigged election -- after all, rigging elections is what their side is accustomed to doing. And it's not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn't work.

  • The economic consequences of the putsch: Why are markets optimistic?

Luis Feliz Leon: Chickens coming home to roost: Far right storms US Capitol: "The Capitol Riot recalls right-wing counterinsurgencies the US has sponsored in the Dominican Republic and around the world."

David A Lieb/Adam Geller: Pro-Trump protests fizzle out at Capitol buildings across the US.

Luke Mogelson: Among the insurrectionists: "The Capitol was breached by Trump supporters who had been declaring, at rally after rally, that they would go to violent lengths to keep the President in power. A chronicle of an attack foretold." Also: A reporter's footage from inside the Capitol siege.

Anna North:

Olivia Nuzzi: What Madison Cawthorn saw at the insurrection: "The youngest member of Congress is invigorated by the mob he helped incite."

Benjamin Parker: The alt-right is now the entire right: "The voices of reason, reality, and responsibility are a cowering minority in the Republican party."

Cameron Peters: A new report shows Capitol Police knew Congress might be targeted days before Capitol attack.

Justin Rohrlich:

Aja Romano: Baked Alaska's clout-chasing spiral into white supremacy is an internet morality tale.

Aaron Rupar:

Liz Scheltens: The warning signs before the Capitol riot. Video, cites sources:

Adam Serwer: The Capitol rioters weren't 'low class': "The business owners, real-estate brokers, and service members who rioted acted not out of economic desperation, but out of their belief in their inviolable right to rule."

By 1909, a decade after the massacre in Wilmington inspired a wave of new Jim Crow legislation across the South, Republican President William Howard Taft praised Democrats for having excluded "an ignorant, irresponsible element" -- that is, Black voters -- from the polity. The respectable people were in charge again.

Of course, it was their success in seizing power and disenfranchising their political rivals that allowed them to maintain their respectability. Had they failed, had the South's brief experiment in multiracial democracy succeeded, they would have been seen as the bandits, assassins, and terrorists that they were. Impunity is what makes murder and terrorism respectable. After all, if these deeds were actually crimes, they would have been punished.

Watching the mob ransack the Capitol last week, Trump is reported to have been initially enthusiastic about the riot, but later disgusted by "what he considered the 'low-class' spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol."

Now we know the truth. They weren't "low class." They were respectable. They almost always are.

Matt Shuham: A common line keeps emerging from Capitol rioters: Trump asked us to be here.

Richard Silverstein: At MAGA rally, Israeli flag and neo-nazis co-exist, awkwardly.

It's no accident that Bibi Netanyahu's closest political allies in Europe are anti-Semites: Hungary's Viktor Orban and Poland's Andrzej Duda. It's also no accident that almost all the Jews in these two countries were exterminated by the Nazis with varying levels of collaboration from local officials. European anti-Semites hate the Jews among them, but love Jews who emigrate to Israel. Because they live in exactly the sort of state these national-supremacists want for themselves: a sovereign state for pure Hungarians or Poles. One that excludes non natives like Roma, Jews, Muslims or African refugees. It is, ironically, the same reason Adolf Eichmann said that if he were a Jew he too would be a Zionist.

Stuart A Thompson/Charlie Warzel: They used to post selfies. Now they're trying to reverse the election. "Right-wing influencers embraced extremist views, and Facebook rewarded them."

Alex Ward:

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: The long prologue to the Capitol Hill riot.

Impeachment

I spent much of last week's Weekend Roundup doubting that impeaching Donald Trump would be worth the trouble, but the House Democrats (plus 10 Republicans) went ahead and did it anyway. Bully for them. Now I doubt that it's worth the trouble for the Senate to try him, especially as the trial won't start until he's out of office. (There's some debate below on whether trying him after he's gone is even legal, but my point is that there's more urgent work for the new Democratic Senate to do.) One argument in favor of trial is that conviction will bar Trump from running again, but I don't see that a Trump 2024 campaign is much to worry about. (Indeed, precluding that could be a big reason for Republicans to step up.)

Even without a Senate conviction, Trump is likely to face consequences for his many offenses. Some are noted below.


Perry Bacon Jr: Trump has been rebuked like no other president -- but really only by Democrats. On the other hand, I'd argue that partisan opposition to Trump is not unprecedented, and possibly not as nasty and vituperative as the Republican attacks on Bill Clinton. One should also note that the precedent for using impeachment as a narrow partisan cudgel was set by Newt Gingrich against Clinton. Pelosi has wound up using it twice, but only in response to much more serious offenses than Clinton's petty lie. Indeed, if Pelosi had tried to impeach Trump every time he lied, she'd never have had time for anything else. Ultimately, Trump was "rebuked like no other president" because he behaved like no other president. The real shame is that only Democrats could see and act on that.

Zack Beauchamp: The case for consequences: "Why Republicans have to be held accountable for the attack on Capitol Hill."

Jerusalem Demsas: A fight over metal detectors reveals how broken Congress really is.

Ross Douthat: Could Mitch McConnell get to yes? "Why the Republican leader should be tempted by the Senate's opportunity to bar rump from running for president again." I can't imagine why anyone would take McConnell's suggestion that he might be open to convicting Trump at face value, but then few pundits are more credulous when it comes to Republican motivations than Douthat. A long Senate trial would be the perfect excuse for McConnell to avoid dealing with Biden's appointments and initial legislative proposals. The real question is whether McConnell decides to repeat his extreme obstructionism from 2009 (his vow to make Obama a one-term president). I can think of several reasons why that not play so well this time. But one thing you can be sure of is that no matter which way he plays it, it won't be because he's grown a conscience about the tattered state of American democracy, or that he's developed the slightest care about what's best for the country.

Melinda Fakuade: A running list of corporate responses to the Capitol riot.

Anita Kumar/Daniel Lippman: 'Supremely self-absorbed': Isolated Trump unlikely to mount an aggressive impeachment defense.

J Michael Luttig: Once Trump leaves office, the Senate can't hold an impeachment trial. This argument makes sense to me: there's no point removing from office someone who's already left office. But the wrinkle here is the possible banning of Trump from ever holding office again -- that would still seem to be a consideration even after Trump departs. Still, I'm surprised to hear so little about this position. Laurence H Tribe argues otherwise: The Senate can constitutionally hold an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office.

Harold Meyerson:

  • Impeachent: Second time around.

  • 1861 and 2021: A troubling resemblance: My thesis that 2020 is the overdue year for change of political eras is certainly holding up well on the leading edge. Trump, like Buchanan, Hoover, and Carter, is a repudiated one-term presidential disaster, and the transition this year evokes comparisons with 1861 and 1933 (even 1981 was marked by the Iran hostage crisis and the worst recession between 1933 and 2008). Less clear whether Biden can provide the uplift of Lincoln, Roosevelt, or Reagan (another caveat there, as Reagan's main trick was to turn his back on reality and invoke a fantasy world, but he did herald the dystopia that his fantasies only temporarily masked). Of course, I don't believe that a real civil war is coming: in 1861 the states had substantial militias, while the feds had but a hollow shell of an army; today the armed pseudo-patriots are few and far between, while the state security forces are immense. I don't mean to make light of the potential the former have for scattered acts of terrorism, but they have no chance of anything more (unless the state starts making many more enemies than it captures or kills).

Ian Millhiser: New poll shows Trump's support dropping sharply among Republicans. Cites polling from Pew showing Trump's approval rating dropping to 29% -- Biden begins presidency with positive ratings; Trump departs with lowest-ever job mark. I think "lowest-ever" means for Trump -- as I recall, GW Bush got down around 21% (and Cheney 9%). Although Trump has lost support among Republicans, his current approval number is still 60%, down from 77% before the election and 85% peak (he got a little bump early in the pandemic, when it wasn't yet clear how badly he blew it; at that point, Democratic approval also peaked at 12%, down to 4% now). More:

Alex Pareene: An impeachment trial will be good practice for actual oversight.

Andrew Prokop:

Michael S Rosenwald: There's an alternative to impeachment or 25th Amendment for Trump, historians say: Having recently read Eric Foner's book on the Reconstruction amendments (The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution), section 3 of the 14th Amendment was something I recognized, but while it was clear who it applied to then, I couldn't recall how new people could be declared insurrectionists and stripped of their political rights. I still don't quite get it. Moreover, I think we need broader and deeper democracy, so I don't see how that's advanced by excluding people we don't like (even if the reason we don't like them is that they're trying to take away our rights).

Philip Rucker/Josh Dawsey/Ashley Parker: Trump to flee Washington and seek rehabilitation in a MAGA oasis: Florida. Headline reads like he's looking for a comeback, perhaps as governor. But then the article veers to his children buying property in Florida, and speculates that Ivanka might run for Marco Rubio's Senate seat.

Emily Stewart: Corporate America takes away Trump's toys: "America's elites got what they wanted from Donald Trump. Now they're walking away."

Amy B Wang: Republicans call for unity but won't acknowledge Biden won fairly.

Li Zhou: Here are the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Notes that that's all it took to make this the most bipartisan impeachment ever. Still, that's less than 5% of the Republican caucus.

Jonathan Zimmerman: Impeach Trump but not for what he said on January 6th: Well, there are so many things Trump could (and should) be impeached for that the debate has always been more practical: what charges stand the best chance of widespread support and possible conviction? Polls have often shown a majority in favor of impeachment, but no issue has ever stood a chance of conviction. Given that's the case, I have to ask: why bother? Maybe you can use impeachment as a "teachable moment" to advance the political critique of Trump, and perhaps you'll score a point or two as Republicans are forced to defend unpopular positions (like insurrection) in order to protect political power. But the inevitable fruitlessness of impeachment makes me wonder whether the effort wouldn't be better spent elsewhere. That leaves me ambivalent: on the one hand, I wouldn't impeach Trump for anything, but I'd never miss a chance to vote against him. Zimmerman's point is somewhat different: he worries that impeaching Trump over a speech could be used to suppress further speech. I don't feel like going into that.

Exit Trump


Politico: 30 things Donald Trump did as president you might have missed: This gives you a pretty good idea of the range of things Trump's administration touched. I would edit this to make it significantly more critical (e.g., Trump's efforts to repeal Obamacare did make it more popular, but he still managed to undermine the law, especially by keeping more people uninsured); the obvious point on Defense spending isn't that he did an audit, which for sure showed gross mismanagement of funds, but that he wound up spending more than ever, while filling the Department with industry lobbyists.)

  • Obamacare: Trump didn't repeal Obamacare -- he accidentally bolstered it
  • Strategy: Trump refocused national security on great power competition
  • Coronavirus: Trump failed to provide workplace guidance, making safety harder for workers
  • Religion in schools: Trump boosted religious organizations in education
  • Oversight: Trump's Interior Department set a new standard for ignoring Congress
  • Cannabis: Legal marijuana spreads across most of the country
  • Loan forgiveness: Trump curbed relief for defrauded students
  • Shell companies: Trump made it easier to prosecure financial crimes like money laundering
  • Poverty: Trump shrank the food safety net -- a lot
  • Overtime pay: Millions of workers lost access to extra pay for long hours
  • Greenhouse gases: On gas emissions, Trump went the opposite direction from the rest of the world
  • Drones: Trump imposed a near-ban on government use of Chinese drones
  • Defense spending: Trump made it possible to follow the Pentagon's money
  • Taxes: Trump goosed the economy with tax cuts that didn't pay political dividends
  • Robocalls: Trump cracked down -- mostly successfully -- on unwanted calls and texts
  • Climate science: Trump exiled climate scientists from Washington -- literally
  • Medical records: Trump took a big swing at finally fixing health-care technology
  • Sexual harassment: Trump rescinded rules protecting workers at federal contractors
  • Auto emissions: Trump went all-in on ending curbs on auto emissions, dividing the industry
  • Antitrust: The anti-monopolists started winning -- despite Trump at first, then with his help
  • Immigration: A big crackdown on legal immigrants
  • Toxic chemicals: Trump impeded regulation -- even though Republicans wanted it
  • Internet upgrade: Trump rallied the world against China's 5G dominance
  • Farm aid: Trump doled out billions in aid to farmers
  • Banking: Trump rolled back rules on banks designed to prevent another financial crisis
  • Social media: Trump galvanized an anti-Silicon Valley movement in the GOP
  • Environmental impacts: Trump reduced environmental approvals for infrastructure projects
  • Artificial intelligence: Trump's White House took quiet steps to promote US development of AI
  • Housing segregation: Trump rolled back rules on racially segregated housing
  • Trade rules: Trump made trade a top priority, but had only mixed results

New York Times: The business rules the Trump administration is racing to finish: Bullet points:

  • Prohibiting Chinese apps and other products.
  • Defining gig workers as contractors.
  • Trimming social media's legal shield.
  • Taking the tech giants to court.
  • Adding new cryptocurrency disclosure requirements.
  • Limiting banks on social and environmental issues.
  • Overhauling rules on banks and underserved communities.
  • New "hot money" deposit rule.
  • Narrowing regulatory authority over airlines.
  • Rolling back a light bulb rule.

All these are in addition to the already staggering list of rules and rollbacks the Trump administration has issued. See: The Trump administration is reversing more than 100 environmental rules. Here's the full list.

Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman/Annie Karni: Pence reached his limit with Trump. It wasn't pretty. "After four years of tongue-biting silence that critics say enabled the president's worst instincts, the vice president would not yield to the pressure and name-calling from his boss."

Julian E Barnes/Michael S Schmidt: NSA installs Trump loyalist as top lawyer days before Biden takes office: "The acting defense secretary ordered the spy agency to appoint Michael Ellis, who has been accused of having a hand in one of the Trump administration's most contentious legal decisions."

Laura Bassett: All that's left of Trumpism is hilariously stupid, deadly serious social media stunts: "MAGA nation's thirst for viral clout is going to get more people killed."

Jonathan Chait:

  • Trump made the stupidest possible argument on Mike Pence: He gave Pence the choice between being a "patriot" and a "pussy." Or maybe he just confused Pence. After all, wouldn't the "patriot" be the guy who stands up for the Constitution, the rule of law, and democracy? And wouldn't the guy who puts those concerns aside to kowtow to the craven ravings of a despot be the "pussy"? (Dictionary definition: "slang: disparaging and offensive, a timid, passive person, especially a man.") Trump has rarely spoke with much precision, but rarely has his own delusions of grandeur been so obvious as here.

  • A history of the Trump era through stories about toilets.

  • Trump is on the verge of losing everything.

  • Trump wanted to erase Obama's legacy. He failed. Did he? Sure, Trump wasn't quite able to wipe our recollection of the notion that quiet competence and a modicum of care resulted in better government. But he did manage to wipe out a very long list of specifics, many of which will be hard to restore. Sure, one can point to Biden's election as a vindication of Obama over Trump, but Biden's actual promises have little to do with nostalgia, and much to do with the fact that America's severest problems have been made much worse by Republican rule, and little helped by Obama's interlude.

Chuck Collins/Omar Ocampo: Trump and his many billionaire enablers. Includes a list of billionaire doors to the Trump Victory Fund, where Sheldon Adelson ranked a mere 8th.

McKay Coppins: The coming Republican amnesia: "How will the GOP recover from the Trump era? Pretend it never happened."

Jerusalem Demsas: Deep cleaning, packing supplies, and a concession: The Trumps plan their White House exit.

Elizabeth Dwoskin/Craig Timberg: Misinformation dropped dramatically the week after Twitter banned Trump and some allies: "Zignal Labs charts 73 percent decline on Twitter and beyond following historic action against the president."

Richard Fausset/Danny Hakim: Atlanta prosecutor appears to move closer to Trump inquiry: "The Fulton County district attorney is weighing an inquiry into possible election interference and is said to be considering hiring an outside counsel."

Scott Galloway/James D Walsh: The most important takeaways from big tech's deplatforming of Trump. Starts with "Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey didn't kick Trump off Facebook and Twitter, respectively; Stacey Abrams did."

Peter Jamison/Carol D Leonnig/Paul Schwartzman: The $3,000-a-month toilet for the Ivanka Trump/Jared Kushner Secret Service detail. Jeffrey St Clair pointed me to this article, after noting that Ivanka had tweeted: "Disrespect for our law enforcement is unacceptable."

Carol D Leonnig/Josh Dawsey/Rosalind S Heiderman: Trump prepares to offer clemency to more than 100 people in his final hours in office. Looks like this will be his last act as president. Some more pardon pieces:

Lisa Lerer/Reid J Epstein: Abandon Trump? Deep in the GOP ranks, the MAGA mind-set prevails.

Nancy LeTourneau: To no one's surprise, Trump is still lying.

Eric Levitz:

Eric Lipton/Ben Protess/Steve Eder: An urgent reckoning for the Trump brand: "Companies and institutions are shunning President Trump and some associates after the attack on the US Capitol. The Trump family business, built on luxury hospitality, is contemplating a reinvention."

Martin Longman: When a lie gets too big.

Andrew Marantz: The importance, and incoherence, of Twitter's Trump ban. It's been about a week since Trump was booted off Twitter, and it already counts as possibly the best quality-of-life move in some while. Not only does it make it harder to Trump to impinge on your life, its absence means the media and late night comics have to dig a little deeper for stories (and jokes).

Nick Martin: Trump's four-year drilling binge has done irreparable damage. True enough, but nothing here on Obama's eight-year drilling binge, which had more dramatic effect, reversing the declining production since Hibbert's Peak in 1969, not only making the US the world's largest oil producer but wiping out the trade deficit in oil. Sure, Trump has been even more lax on the environmental front (but most of Obama's production gains were through fracking, which has its own environmental problems). The big difference was probably that Obama took over after record high prices under Bush, so the industry was more inclined to invest. Those prices dropped first with the recession (which both reduced demand and stopped the banks from speculating on futures), then with the glut, and lower prices (and more "green" competition) have depressed investment. Trump's own efforts to prop up prices have concentrated on banishing low-cost producers Iran and Venezuela.

Dylan Matthews: The F word: "The debate over whether to call Donald Trump a fascist, and why it matters." Cites a letter by Robert Paxton (author of The Anatomy of Fascism):

As you know I have been reluctant to use the F word for Trumpism, but yesterday's use of violence against democratic institutions crosses the red line.

There is a spookily close parallel with an event that occurred in the late French Third Republic - the attempt by right-wing militants to march on the Chambre des députés in the night of February 6, 1934. In the street fighting between police and marchers on the bridge that links the Place de la Concorde to the Chambre sixteen people were killed. That demonstration and the polarization that it reflected and deepened are often considered to mark the beginning of a process that led to the fall of the Republic and arrival of the Vichy regime. I couldn't help but think of that last evening as we watched the unbelievable images on TV.

For more on the 1934 crisis, see Wikipedia. Matthews also quotes from Paxton's book:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

The problem with applying this definition to Trump has been the relative lack of organized violence, although I've long suspected that this is due less to beliefs and desires than to the constraints that have thus far limited Trump's power: the more power you give him, the more likely he is to rival Hitler. Even so, Trump is likely to be limited by his incompetence, his vanity, and the historical untenability of racism, imperialism, and war. Still, a fascist doesn't have to be as disastrous as Hitler to be a fascist. It would be wise to detect the impulses before they get out of hand -- as they did with the Capitol insurrection.

One more question is why does it matter whether people make the link between Trump and pre-WWII fascists? It all depends on who you are talking to. The US fought WWII specifically against fascism, and that resonates even today. To say Trump is a fascist emphasizes how he runs counter to American political traditions -- an appeal not just to liberals but to conservatives who value the freedom secured by American democracy. Such people have had a peculiar sense of when fascism needs to be opposed. They coined the term "premature anti-fascists" to describe leftists who recognized the danger of fascism long before the US government felt the need to fight fascism in WWII. For leftists, Trump's fascist affinities were recognized early -- long before the attack on the Capitol. But the charge of fascism has always been a heuristic (a pattern through which various perceptions come into focus). It may (or may not) make practical sense to use the term, as opposed to the many other ways one might talk about Trump's bad deeds. But Trump's fomenting of mob violence against Congress certainly expanded the circle of people willing to talk about Trump's fascism.

Nicole Narea: Trump's border visit was a desperate attempt to preserve his legacy on immigration. When I first heard of this, I thought maybe Trump was making some kind of grand tour of his accomplishments, but then I remembered he didn't have any -- at least not ones he'd like to draw attention to.

Cameron Peters: Alex Azar's resignation letter paints a misleading picture of Trump's coronavirus response.

Sabrina Rodriguez: Trump's partially built 'big, beautiful wall': In the end, President Donald rump built a mere fraction of what he promised."

Austin Sarat: Trump targeted the mentally ill with his lame duck execution spree. This ranks high on the list of disgusting things Trump has done (not that I have the stomach to try ranking them). I've long thought that the key question on capital punishment is not whether the covict has done something deserving of death but whether the state should have the power to kill securely incarcerated people in cold blood. I can think of lots of reasons to say no, including the fact that the other nations who still slaughter prisoners are the world's leading human rights abusers, which come to think of it is why the US is one of them. But another is that the punishment is applied so inconsistently and haphazardly, as is clear from this tendency to single out the most helpless prisoners available. Also note that while many of Trump's orders can (and will) be reversed, his killings are final -- the one part of his legacy he can always look back on and relish. Related:

Emily Stewart: Why the MyPillow guy was at the White House, explained as best as we can: Mike Lindell.

Enter Biden

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


David Dayen: How Biden can move on from the Obama era: "The American Economic Liberties Project's 'Courage to Learn' report explains Obama's failures on competition policy, and a path forward for the new president." It's hard to think of anything the Obama administration did a poorer job of than antitrust ("if you block the last two companies in the economy from merging, that's not a successful antitrust policy" -- and that only happened toward the end of the second term).

Connor Echols: Biden's hidden hawks: This singles out several "particularly concerning" second-tier appointees, "both for their lack of repentance for past sins and their potential to do harm going forward."

  1. Victoria Nuland, Biden's nominee for under secretary of state for political affairs, the third-ranking post in the State Department.
  2. Samantha Power, Biden's pick to lead the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.
  3. Kurt Campbell, Biden's pick for "Asia tsar."

Dino Grandoni/Juliet Eilperin: Biden swells the ranks of his White House climate team.

Anne Kim: Joe the centrist? Biden's Family Assistance Plan is really bold.

Nicholas Kristof: When Biden becomes . . . Rooseveltian! Seems premature, but the conditions are ripe, even if there's never been any reason to think the man might rise to the occasion. Starts with a famous story:

Soon after Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, a visitor assessed the stakes of his New Deal proposal.

"Mr. President, if your program succeeds, you'll be the greatest president in American history," the visitor told him. "If it fails, you will be the worst one."

"If it fails," Roosevelt responded, "I'll be the last one."

Paul Krugman: Four rules that should guide Bidenomics: Ugh! Can we start by banning the personalized term? Call it "Democratic economic politics" if you must, as it's a shared set of precepts and policies which can be meaningfully contrasted to "Republican economic politics" -- and that wouldn't surrender the concept of an economic science separate from partisan preference (not that academic economists don't have their partisan loyalties). Still, let's list the rules:

  1. Don't doubt the power of government to help.
  2. Don't obsess about debt.
  3. Don't worry about inflation.
  4. Don't count on Republicans to help govern.

Nancy LeTourneau: The attacks on Biden's Civil Rights Division nominee have already started. Kristen Clarke. You may recall that Republicans singled out Clinton's and Obama's nominees for this position (Lani Guinier, Debo Adegbile). They get nervous at the prospect of the Civil Rights Division being led by someone serious about civil rights.

German Lopez: Biden's plan to fix the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, explained. Bullet points:

  • More federal work to get shots to people.
  • Boost the supply of vaccines.
  • Expanded vaccine eligibility.
  • Mobilize a larger public health workforce.
  • Launch a national public education campaign.

Ian Millhiser: McConnell is already sabotaging Biden's presidency: "The Senate hasn't held a single confirmation hearing on Biden's nominees. That's not normal."

Nicole Narea: What we know about Biden's inauguration plans.

Cameron Peters:

Emily Stewart:

Bill Scher: It's time for a domestic terrorism law: Filed this under Biden because "Joe Biden's transition team was already working on a domestic terrorism law before the insurrection." I've been worried about right-wing violence at least since the 1990s (remember Oklahoma City?), and of course I know it wasn't newly minted then: the practice of violence is deeply embedded in the DNA of conservatism. I would even venture that aside from 9/11, I doubt there's ever been a year since the 1990s where Islamic terrorists (or "antifa" or "eco-terrorists") have killed more Americans in America than right-wingers have. Still, it's unclear to me that new anti-terrorism laws are either needed or useful. On the other hand, I can understand the fear, as I expect right-wing terror is going to get much worse before the "fire and fury" Trump (and Fox) stoked burns itself out. Some debate:

Jon Walker: Democrats must federalize Medicaid. Well, sure, but while the states bear a lot of responsibility for not expanding Medicaid per the ACA, a more fundamental problem is having a second-class Medicare-for-some in the first place.

Alex Ward: Biden taps Bill Burns, a career diplomat, to lead CIA. Note that Robert Wright/Connor Echols gave Burns a relatively decent mark on their Grading candidates for Biden's foreign policy team.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 23.9 million+ cases (14 day change +9%, total up 1.5 million in last week), 397,566 deaths (+27%), 126,139 hospitalized (+5%). While today's numbers are down a bit from the peak, the 14-day changes are still rising, giving us The worst week for deaths since the pandemic began. Monday will probably top the 400,000 deaths mark.

According to Bloomberg's Covid-19 vaccine tracker, the US has administered 14.7 million doses. The number of people who have received two doses is still very small.


Marc Fisher/Lori Rozsa/Mark Kreidler/Annie Gowen: 400,000: The invisible deaths of covid-19: "It took just over a month for the US coronavirus death toll to clib from 300,000 to nearly 400,000" (see chart).

Dhruv Khullar: Five countries, five experiences of the pandemic.

Ezra Klein: Biden's Covid-19 plan is maddeningly obvious: "It is infuriating that the Trump administration left so many of these things undone."

The person in charge of managing the hell out of the operation is Jeff Zients, who served as chief performance officer under President Barack Obama and led the rescue of HealthCare.gov. In a Saturday briefing with journalists, Zients broke the plan down into four buckets. Loosen the restrictions on who can get vaccinated (and when). Set up many more sites where vaccinations can take place. Mobilize more medical personnel to deliver the vaccinations. And use the might of the federal government to increase the vaccine supply by manufacturing whatever is needed, whenever it is needed, to accelerate the effort. "We're going to throw the full resources and weight of the federal government behind this emergency," Zients promised.

Concerning the World

William LeoGrande: Putting Cuba on the terrorism list is unjustified and unwise.

James North: Pompeo's lie of al-Qaeda link raises risk of conflict with Iran. More on Pompeo:

Yumna Patel: In 'watershed' moment, B'Tselem labels Israel 'apartheid regime'. More comments, and more on Israel:

Charles Pierson: A Yemeni famine made in Washington and Riyadh.

Gareth Porter: How CENTCOM Chief McKenzie manufactured an Iran crisis to increase his power.

Everything Else

William Astore: We're all prisoners of war now: "When will America free itself from war?"

Ask yourself this question: During a deadly pandemic, as the American death toll approaches 400,000 while still accelerating, what unites "our" representatives in Congress? What is the only act that draws wide and fervent bipartisan support, not to speak of a unique override of a Trump presidential veto in these last four years? It certainly isn't providing health care for all or giving struggling families checks for $2,000 to ensure that food will be on American tables or that millions of us won't be evicted from our homes in the middle of a pandemic. No, what unites "our" representatives is funding the military-industrial complex to the tune of $740.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 (though the real amount spent on what passes for "national security" each year regularly exceeds a trillion dollars). Still, that figure of $740.5 billion in itself is already higher than the combined military spending of the next 10 countries, including Russia and China as well as U.S. allies like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Bryan Bender: The military has a hate group problem. But it doesn't know how bad it's gotten.

Constance Grady:

  • Josh Hawley's book deal cancellation comes after a year of social debates in publishing.

  • The word "Orwellian" has lost all meaning: "How the right made the word 'Orwellian' an empty cliché." I'm not sure I ever knew what it meant, but maybe that's because I was always under the impression that 1984 was meant as a warning against a possible future, not as a prescription. Orwell was one of the "God That Failed" crowd of former turned anti-communists, so he was quickly turned into a useful idiot in the right-wing propaganda war. (I had to read Animal Farm as part of my high-school indoctrination.) But it isn't hard to find Orwell quotes that discredit this caricature -- e.g., "political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." That quote here was immediately followed by a DJTJ tweet complaining that "Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what's left is only there for a chosen few." Like DJTJ, evidently, though that hardly explains the faux outrage. Also:

William Grimes: Phil Spector, famed music producer and convicted murderer, dies at 81: "Pop genius and NRA poster-boy" is the way I'd put it. On the former, see Jon Pareles: Phil Spector: Listening to 15 songs from a violent legacy. Those songs range 1958-80, with the string most associated with him ending in 1966 with "River Deep, Mountain High." The murder occurred in 2003. Spector had long been fascinated with guns, liked to bring them out and play around with them, and eventually killed an actress named Lana Clarkson. At the time, he claimed it was an accident, but it was the sort that seemed bound to happen, and he was convicted of 2nd degree murder. Hardly a loss to music at that point, but a cautionary tale about guns. Also see:

Robert D McFadden: Sheldon Adelson, billionaire donor to GOP and Israel, is dead at 87. New York Times obituary, so not the most critical, but a fair place to start. Adelson was an extreme example of how someone who was extremely rich ("$34.9 billion at the time of his death") could exert extraordinary political influence. He was Trump's top financial backer in 2016, and contributed much more in 2020: "about $250 million in checks to support Trump and GOP House and Senate candidates." He had so much influence over Republicans that in 2016 there was much talk of a "Sheldon Adelson primary," where hopefuls trekked to Las Vegas to beg for his support. Although he embraced most of the political causes of the very rich, his overriding issue was support for Israel and its racism and militarism, and he may have had even more influence there, both through his direct control of much Israeli media (see How US billionaire Sheldon Adelson is buying up Israel's media) and his political contributions, especially his sponsorship of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For some more on Adelson:

Ian Millhiser:

  • Abolish the lame-duck period: "America's long lame-duck period gave Trump supporters months to plan a violent uprising. It needs to end." I doubt the insurrection had all that much planning, but the point about the 2.5 month lame-duck period is well taken. In most democracies, power changes hand within days of an election. (Millhiser gives examples like 5 days in the UK, 7 days in France, 10 days in India and Japan, 2 weeks in Canada.) The US used to have an even longer transition (March 4), which was changed after the 1932 election -- perhaps the most fractious and perilous transition before this year, as FDR had to wait and wait while Hoover watched banks collapse and the Depression worsen. After that experience, the Constitution was amended to move up the date.

  • The Supreme Court hands down its first anti-abortion decision of the Amy Coney Barrett era.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Do me two times, I'm goin' away. Makes fun of Biden for calling Trump "an embarrassment." Of course, there are worse things you can (and should) charge Trump with, but embarrassment is the common denominator, something we should (if not can) all be able to agree on.

Dorothy Wickenden: The pre-Civil War fight against white supremacy: "In a country riven by racial politics, three women strove for a just society." Frances Seward, Martha Coffin Wright, Harriet Tubman.

Monday, January 11, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Last week, I found myself flashing back to scenes in the 1980 movie Airplane!. It was a very funny spoof of late-1970s disaster movies (especially Airport 1975, but the series of gags I most recall featured the air traffic controller (played by Lloyd Bridges), admitting "this was the wrong week to quit" various vices (cigarettes, booze, cocaine, sniffing glue -- by which point it was smeared all over his face and hair). Well, this was the wrong week to quit Weekend Roundup. My plan was to keep doing it through the Biden inauguration, then free up my weekends. I've collected my posts in four long book files. While I feel obligated to wrap up the Trump term, I'm too old and tired to contemplate doing this for another four years.

Still, last week was one for the book. I grabbed a couple items as early as Friday, but unfortunately I wasn't able to knuckle down and focus on this until mid-afternoon Sunday. So this will probably be shorter (and glibber?) than is deserved. The key events were:

  • A Trump rally in Georgia on the eve of the state's Senate runoff elections.
  • Georgia's election of two new Democratic Senators, which doesn't really give Democrats control of the Senate but gives them a fighting chance of getting appointments confirmed and passing legislation.
  • The extremist politicization of the previously routine counting of the electoral votes by Congress.
  • Trump fomenting an insurrection where his followers attacked, invaded, and (briefly) occupied the Capitol Building, disrupting the counting of electoral votes.
  • The restoration of order, and completion of the counting, showing once again that Biden won the election.
  • The reaction to the violence and disorder, and the still unfolding fallout.
  • Meanwhile, the pandemic got worse than ever, with daily death counts topping 4,000 for the first time.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about what to call the storming of the Capitol. In most regards it resembles the general unruliness of a riot, but the fact that the mob was organized and directed not at a mere symbol of state power but at the literal seat of democracy, where representatives were engaged in a process meant to insure the orderly transfer of power, marks it as an insurrection. Its target also underscores that it was not a protest against state power but a direct attack on democracy, and as such on the fundamental belief that the power of the state is rooted in the will of the people.

Whether it was a coup attempt is a somewhat messier question. Coups (from a French word for a sudden strike) are normally conflicts within the power structure, where one faction (usually from the military and/or the state security groups) moves to seize control of the state. That didn't happen, and I have no reason to think that the US military would do such a thing -- not that they, nor especially the CIA, have scruples about organizing and/or supporting coups abroad.

On the other hand, Trump made no secret of his desire that someone intervene to deliver his re-election. In his methods, he most resembles a monarch (or mob boss) who obliquely wonders whether someone will relieve him of some problem person, then feigns surprise when some underling kills the offender. Trump didn't care who would save him, nor did he worry about the means. He would have been happy had state election officials "found" enough votes to overcome the shortfall. He wanted state legislators to approve alternate electors, regardless of state laws. He repeatedly appealed to the courts. He urged his allies in Congress to challenge the counting, and he ordered his VP to throw the election to him. So when his mob stormed the Capitol, he was briefly optimistic. There is no reason to think he wouldn't have been thrilled to have the mob forced Congress at gunpoint to throw the election to him. And when all his efforts failed, he still gets to walk away pretending he never did anything wrong -- and that he is still the aggrieved party.


Ainsley Earhardt, the blonde sandwiched between the two douchebags at Fox & Friends, offered this emotional plea:

There are 75 million people that voted for President Trump. And they are scared. They are worried about what the future of this country looks like. They are confused and heartbroken that their candidate didn't win and they don't want to be forgotten.

Tony Karon cited this quote, then added:

Whiny white privilege knows no limits, eh? Especially when you monetize it, like FOX News, which profits off disseminating the lies and hatred driving this nonsense.

Actually, I'm all for respecting people's hurt feelings, but where is there any acknowledgement that the 82 million Biden voters care at least as much, as intensely, as existentially as those Trump voters? (Actual totals are closer to 81-to-74 million, but the margin is more than 7 million votes.) I shudder to think what the reaction would be if Trump somehow managed to steal this election, especially after all the damage he's done since unfairly, undemocratically seizing the election in 2016. And, like, we're the side that believes in peace, in equality, in civility, in law, in order, in community, and in reality.

Twitter Chatter

I wound up collecting enough of these to merit their own section (although note that I only started collecting them on Friday (and didn't keep it up), and I only follow a tiny number of feeds -- although retweets expand what I see significantly):

Stephen Colbert:
It'll be a shame if history allows one horrific event on this president's watch to overshadow all the other horrific events on this president's watch.
Kathleen Geier:
I know that 2021 has barely started but this has got to be in the running for headline of the year. [Hawley blames 'woke mob' for cancellation of book day after actual mob stormed Capitol]
Mike Konczal:
That the occupation of the Capitol was far more violent, and had the capacity for far more violence, than I understood while it was happening is the most jarring thing I've learned about the putsch over the subsequent days. It's terrifying.
Yousef Munayyer:
We spend $750 billion annually on "defense" and the center of American government fell in two hours to the duck dynasty and the guy in the chewbacca bikini.
Olivia Nuzzi:
A person who currently advises Donald Trump tells me: "It's all hit him since yesterday: 'You may have legal exposure from yesterday. You definitely have legal exposure from other things. You have less than two weeks to remain ensconced in here with executive privilege.'"
Jeff Sharlet:
A funny-because-it's-awful, awful-because-it's funny thing is that on Parler so many fascists, having finally achieved the uprising they could never before pull off, are doing everything they can to give all the credit to antifa. "What, us?" No, we can't organize shit."
Oliver Willis:
Hope Hicks resigning at this point is like Eva Braun walking out of the bunker and saying "ultimately, he went a little too far at the end."


Georgia and the End of the 2020 Election

On Tuesday, Georgia elected two new US Senators, with Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeating incumbents Kelly Loefler and David Perdue. See: Senate live results. Perdue and Loeffler led in the November election (which Trump lost by 11,789 votes), so one can take an extra pleasure in seeing how the runoff system, designed during the Jim Crow era to preserve white supremacy, finally opened the door. From what I can tell, it looks like turnout was more than 90% of the presidential election, which is remarkably high for a runoff election.

As I recall, on the night of the election, the Democrats jumped to an early lead, lost that late in the evening, then came back overnight. Ossoff's win wound up at about 45,000 votes, and Warnock did better (or Loeffler did worse), with a margin of 83,000 votes. There was a lot of speculation that Trump's post-election antics could cost Republicans in this race. I never put much stock in that, but what is unquestionably true is that Democrats stepped up and took the runoff very seriously.

This results in a 50-50 tie in the Senate. As the Vice President can break ties, that should give Democrats the ability to organize and run the processes. Still, as "control" goes that's a pretty tenuous margin, and depends a lot on keeping the most conservative senator(s) happy -- Joe Manchin is the obvious bottleneck here. Not much recent talk about ending the filibuster. If that doesn't happen (and Manchin is on record against changing the filibuster rule), it will be very hard to get any very progressive bills through the Senate. While the tie makes it harder for Republicans to obstruct everything, it relieves them of some of the pressure to cooperate with Biden. Republicans should be in a very good position to regain control of Congress in 2022, if they can avoid blame for whatever goes wrong -- which given the state they've left the nation in is quite a lot.

On Wednesday, Congress met to count and certify the Electoral College votes, with a substantial faction of Republicans trying to steal a win for Trump. Before they got very far, Trump's mob stormed the Capitol, disrupting the proceedings. I cover that in two later sections, but here I'll include stories that relate to the session, both before and after the disruption.


Vox [Dylan Matthews, Ella Nilsen, Zack Beauchamp, Andrew Prokop, Li Zhou, Ian Millhiser]: 5 winner and 2 losers from the Georgia Senate elections. Winners: Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff; Joe Manchin (as the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, he can play hardest-to-please, making him the bottleneck for Democratic votes); Stacey Abrams and Georgia organizers; Ketanji Brown Jackson (or Leondra Kruger); more stimulus. Losers: Mitch McConnell; Trump's election discrediting strategy.

Chas Danner: Trump made earlier call to pressure Georgia election investigator.

Jerusalem Demsas: The 14 Republican senators objecting to the Electoral College's certification.

Ella Nilsen: Democrats win the Senate -- by the slimmest margin possible.

Andrew Prokop:

Bill Scher: Electoral College certification is dividing the GOP. Good.

Dylan Scott: "Phenomenal" Black turnout won the Senate for Democrats in Georgia.

Nate Silver: Georgia was a disaster for Republicans, and it's not clear where they can go next.

After last week, though, I'm not sure I'd want to place a lot of money on the GOP in 2022, either. If the Georgia runoffs served as a quasi-midterm, they might suggest that the GOP can't count on the sort of gains that a party typically wins in midterms. As in the primaries leading up to 2010, the GOP is likely to have some vicious intraparty fights, possibly leading it to nominate suboptimal candidates in some races. And with the violence last week and Republican efforts to contest the Electoral College outcome in Congress, Democrats may be very motivated again in 2022, feeling -- not unreasonably -- as though democracy itself may be on the line.

Emily Stewart: David Perdue may follow the Trump playbook on Senate election loss: He ultimately didn't, as the margin of his loss grew throughout Wednesday, eventually hitting 45,000, so he finally conceded. Perdue and Loeffler also backed off from their promise to support Trump's ersatz electors, although Perdue's term had expired before the vote, and Loeffler's ends as soon as Georgia certifies Warnock's win.

Li Zhou: 147 Republican lawmakers still objected to the election results after the Capitol attack.

Trump's Insurrection

One thing I wish I had time to do was to dig up some of the video that exposes the actual and potential violence of the mob's storming of the Capitol Building. It's worth noting that rioters came armed with everything from zip-ties and pepper spray to pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. Another thing I didn't get to is the threat of further "protests" and more violence around the inauguration.


Devlin Barrett: Trump's remarks before Capitol riot may be investigated, says acting US attorney in DC.

Dan Barry/Mike McIntire/Matthew Rosenberg: 'Our president wants us here': The mob that stormed the capitol.

Zack Beauchamp:

Kim Bellware: Police departments across the US open probes into whether their own members took part in the Capitol riot. I'd venture to say that if they purged the ones who did participate, that would help with some of the other problems that plague police departemnts. Normally I'd oppose any sort of politically-defined job restriction, but the people who actually participated in the violence and insurrection (as opposed to people who merely attended the rally) aren't fit to be police.

Aaron Blake: What Trump said before his supporters stormed the Capitol, annotated.

Sidney Blumenthal: Trump's MAGA insurrectionists were perverse US civil war re-enactors.

Jonathan Chait:

Fabiola Cineas:

  • Whiteness is at the core of the insurrection.

  • Donald Trump is the accelerant: "A comprehensive timeline of Trump encouraging hate groups and political violence." Much of this is familiar, but the sheer length is staggering. Latest entry:

    At an outdoor rally in Washington, DC, Trump turned on Republicans who refused to support his efforts to overturn the election results, calling them weak, and urged Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College results.

    Trump told listeners, "You will never take back our country with weakness." (Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani also delivered a speech in which he encouraged "trial by combat.") He encouraged them to head to the Capitol to support objections to certification of the vote.

    Hours of violence followed the speech when supporters stormed the US Capitol, as well as state capitols across the country. Capitol Police fatally shot Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter, as she and others tried to breach the halls of the Senate. Four others died, including a police officer. Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a city-wide curfew beginning at 6 pm, and few people were arrested, though many rioters violated the restriction.

    That evening, Trump again equivocated in messages to supporters, making little attempt to try to stop the violence. He later denounced the violence, but refused to clearly state he lost the election. According to the New York Times, he soon expressed regret to White House aides about committing to a peaceful transfer of power and condemning the Capitol attack.

    I don't normally copy links from within quoted text, but the last story seemed especially significant, and turns out to have a lot of information beyond its headline ("Democrats ready impeachment charge against Trump for inciting Capitol mob"). For instance:

    Mr. Trump had told advisers in the days before the march that he wanted to join his supporters in going to the Capitol, but White House officials said no, according to people briefed on the discussions. The president had also expressed interest beforehand in calling in the National Guard to hold off anti-Trump counterprotesters who might show up, the people said, only to turn around and resist calls for bringing those troops in after the rioting by his loyalists broke out.

Aaron C Davis/Rebecca Tan/Beth Reinhard: Several Capitol police officers suspended, more than a dozen under investigation over actions related to rally, riot.

Josh Dawsey/Ashley Parker: Inside the remarkable rift between Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

Jason Del Rey: Shopify hits President Trump where it hurts: His wallet: "The software firm has taken down President Trump's online stores."

Jerusalem Demsas:

Anthony DiMaggio: Fascism by gaslighting: Trump's coup and the grassroots insurrection strategy. Includes a revealing study of Trump speeches, wherein he "spent radically more time fixating on his partisan political opponents than did Obama or Bush."

Attempts to criminalize the Democratic Party via claims that it embraces criminal immigrant-based gang violence. This includes Trump's references to the Democrats as the "party of crime," the party that is "okay with crime" and with "open borders, which means lots of crime." In contrast Republicans and Trump "want tough, strong, powerful borders, and we want no crime." Trump depicts Democratically-controlled "sanctuary cities" -- "which the Democratic Party supports totally -- they love them" -- as the primary focal point "where crime pours in" to the country.

Trump's use of animal metaphors, his depiction of LatinX immigrants as criminals, and his claim that immigrants bring in "tremendous infectious disease," are indistinguishable from eliminationist Nazi propaganda, which characterized Jews as "rats," as a "poison[ous]," "filthy" and "infected" people, as a "plague," and as a criminal "arsonist" and "serpent[ine]" threat to public order and safety. That this simple yet damning comparison between Trumpian and Nazi propaganda is routinely downplayed in American political life is a sign of just how far our politics has deteriorated under Trump in the era of mass fascism-denialism.

Joshua Frank: Fools rush in: Trump, pardons and the tyrant's cult.

Understanding Trump as a cult leader is the only way to truly appreciate the power he wields and the idiocy he manifests. Few others could call upon their legions to storm government buildings with the dashing hope their efforts would make a difference, overturning what they falsely believed was a rigged election. No longer did police lives matter to these twisted Patriots. No longer did America's legal system matter, which shot down one election lawsuit after another. No longer did common sense matter, if the Capitol stormers had any to begin with. Only their President mattered. Only fulfilling his delusional fantasies mattered, and this was worth risking imprisonment and even death for. While the refrain may have been "Make America Great Again," the real mantra echoing through Washington last Wednesday was "Keep Trump President." He had not, after all, lost, according to them. The multiple logics here were murky at best, but the essence of their rhetoric was not.

Shirin Ghaffary: Why Twitter finally banned Trump: "The company suggested that Trump's tweets risk further violence during a critical time for democracy."

Melissa Gira Grant: This isn't an insurrection. It's an alliance.

Miranda Green: Who dies for Donald Trump? Profile of Ashli Babbitt, the one rioter shot and killed by Capitol Police while trying to take over the Capitol building.

Benjamin Hart: Capitol police officer dies after sustaining injuries in riot.

Rebecca Heilweil/Shirin Ghaffary: How Trump's internet built and broadcast the Capitol insurrection: "Online extremists started planning the chaos of January 6 months ago."

Sean Illing: The fantasy-industrial complex gave us the Capitol Hill insurrection: "This is America's brain on misinformation."

Kellie Carter Jackson: The inaction of Capitol Police was by design.

According to the Associated Press, the Capitol Police knew about the potential threat of the riot days before it took place, but rejected offers of help from the National Guard and the FBI. Officials said that they wanted to avoid using federal force against Americans, as they had done this summer. The choice to turn down help amid warnings of an insurrection is as revealing as it is disturbing: Why did law enforcement assume that they'd encounter violence from protesters marching for Black lives in June, but think that a largely white crowd of pro-Trump extremists and conspiracy theorists would remain peaceful? The difference in the Capitol Police's response shocked many who bemoaned the double standard. But police brutality against Black Americans and police inaction toward white Americans is not some surprising anomaly; it is the status quo.

Sarah Jones: This is what Trumpism without Trump looks like.

Peter Kafka: Fox News wants its viewers angry enough to watch but not angry enough to riot. "Guess what happens when you tell people, over and over, that they're being robbed? They may believe you." I don't think that's quite right: they don't care how angry you get; they just don't want to be held culpable for what you do with that anger. Maybe they should change their motto from "we report/you decide" to "we incite/you do the time"?

Robert Klemko/Kimberly Kindy/Kim Bellware/Derek Hawkins: Kid glove treatment of pro-Trump mob contrasts with strong-arm police tactics against Black Lives Matter, activists say.

Paul Krugman: How the Republican Party went feral, and Appeasement got us where we are: "It's time to stand up to the fascists among us."

Akela Lacy: Rep. Cori Bush on Republicans who fueled attack on Capitol: "That blood is on all of their hands".

Nancy LeTourneau: Why the GOP will remain a threat to democracy, even after Trump is gone: Posted Jan. 5, avant le deluge, but even as Trump surged to the forefront of our fears, a point worth remembering. The only thing that the GOP split over certifying electors proved is that Republicans may differ on tactics, but remain united on their fundamental goal of subverting democracy.

Eric Levitz: Impeach and remove Trump now. "He must be frog-marched out of our civic life in disgrace." Agreed, but impeachment won't do that. What's needed is to teach people to recognize what indulging Trump's vanities and paranoia has cost them, so they learn not to let people like Trump back in the halls of power ever again.

Adam Liptak: Can Twitter legally bar Trump? The first amendment says yes: "There are reasons to question the wisdom of recent actions by Twitter in barring President Trump from its site and Simon & Schuster in canceling the publication of Senator Josh Hawley's book. But the First Amendment is on their side."

Mike Ludwig: The Trumps have fueled a far right media monster that is not going away.

Jane Lytvynenko/Molly Hensley-Clancy: The rioters who took over the Capitol have been planning online in the open for weeks.

Andrew G McCabe/David C Williams: Trump's new criminal problem: "The president could face charges for inciting the Capitol riot -- and maybe even for inciting the murder of a Capitol Police officer."

Stephanie McNeal: Here are some of the most horrifying and stunning videos from the assault on the Capitol.

Ian Millhiser: 13 federal criminal laws that the pro-Trump mob may have violated, explained.

Parker Molloy: Desperate not to take responsibility for what they've set in motion, pro-Trump media pivot to conspiracy theories.

Sara Morrison: The Capitol rioters put themselves all over social media. Now they're getting arrested.

Tina Nguyen: MAGA activists plot revenge on Republican 'traitors': "The swift move to vengeance offers a preview of how Trump and his MAGA community plan to reshape the GOP in the coming months."

Anna North: Police bias explains the Capitol riot.

Anna North/Ella Nilsen: The catastrophic police failure at the US Capitol, explained.

Olivia Nuzzi:

Molly Olmstead: What new details tell us about the Capitol rioters' plans.

Ashley Parker/Josh Dawsey/Philip Rucker: Six hours of paralysis: Inside Trump's failure to act after a mob stormed the Capitol.

Madeline Peltz: YouTube terminated Steve Bannon's account. He had blood on his hands after months of calling for revolution and violence.

Andrew Perez/David Sirota: We should know exactly who funded last week's right-wing riot: "Last week's right-wing riot at the Capitol was egged on by politicians and organizations that have received substantial dark-money funding from corporate interests. It's past time to enact reforms to end the era of dark money -- and find out who exactly is bankrolling the anti-democratic far right."

Cameron Peters:

James Poniewozik:

Andrew Prokop: Republican senator: White House aides say Trump was "delighted" as Capitol was stormed: "Sen. Ben Sasse said that, according to senior White House officials, Trump was 'confused' why others weren't as excited."

Frank Rich: The trashing of the republic: "The only response to the carnage in Washington is to banish Trump and his traitorous collaborators from civil society." And how do you do that, given that you don't have the power, and they feed on contempt?

Alexander Reid Ross: Inside the alt-right meltdown after failed Capitol putsch.

Aaron Rupar:

  • Trump turns once and for all against Republicans who won't help him steal the election: "Speaking to protesters from the White House, Trump said, 'We have to primary the hell out of the ones that don't fight.'"

  • How Trump's speech led to the Capitol riot.

    Just before a MAGA mob descended on the US Capitol on Wednesday and caused a riot that killed five people, including a Capitol police officer who was beaten to death, President Donald Trump delivered a speech to his supporters in which he used the words "fight" or "fighting" at least 20 times.

    "We're going to have to fight much harder and Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us," Trump said at one point, alluding to Pence's ultimate refusal to attempt to steal the election for him during that day's hearing where the Electoral College made his loss official.

    "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength. You have to be strong," he added during the speech in which he pushed long-debunked lies about Joe Biden's convincing victory over him being the product of fraud.

Andrea Salcedo: Republican AGs group sent robocalls urging protesters to the Capitol. GOP officials now insist they didn't know about it.

Neil Schoenherr: WashU Expert: Mob at US Capitol building amounts to insurrection: So says Greg Magarian.

Melody Schreiber: The actual death toll from the pro-Trump won't be known for weeks: "Many who stormed the Capitol in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic did not wear masks. Then they went back to D.C.'s hotels and shops." We've already seen two Democratic Representatives test positive after sheltering with Republicans who refused to wear masks -- Pramila Jayapal and Bonnie Watson.

Alex Shephard: The conservative media really wants you to think the Capitol riot is the left's fault.

Fran Shor: White chickens, coming home to roost. Her backfile includes the book, Weaponized Whiteness: The Constructions and Deconstructions of White Identity Politics, and The long life of institutional white supremacist terror.

Timothy Snyder: The American abyss: "A historian of fascism and political atrocity on Trump, the mob and what comes next."

Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term "fake news" echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse ("lying press"); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as "enemies of the people." . . .

Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet.

Craig Timberg/Drew Harwell: Pro-Trump forums erupt with violent threats ahead of Wednesday's rally against the 2020 election.

Emily VanDerWerff: Is the country falling apart? Depends on where you get your news?

Alissa Wilkinson:

Jennifer Williams: Was the US Capitol attack "domestic terrorism"? Offers definitions by "analysts," "law enforcement," and "politicians/pundits," which vary somewhat. I have reservations, but one thing I'm sure of is that we'll be hearing a lot more about "domestic terrorism" in the near future, and the applicability of the term won't be debatable.

Jennifer Williams/Alex Ward: Trump has the authority to launch nuclear weapons -- whether Pelosi likes it or not: The authors are critical of Pelosi for talking to generals about limiting Trump's ability to launch nuclear weapons, arguing "there is no reason to think Trump plans to randomly nuke anybody." Given how fascinated Trump evidently is with nuclear weapons -- he's championed a budget of more than $1 trillion for new bombs, he threatened North Korea with them, he ended several treaties with Russia limiting them, he wondered whether we could use them on hurricanes -- and how deranged he currently is, I'd say Pelosi has something to worry about. Still, the problem is that no president should have this power -- not just an especially bad one. Unfortunately, that's not a problem Democrats have much power to fix right away. And one they may well forget exists when one of their own gets his itchy fingers on the trigger.

Impeachment and Aftermath

I think we should have learned two things from the impeachment of Clinton: that it's a cheap trick for a House majority to harass an president from the other party, and that it's not an effective way to deal with serious executive malfeasance. Part of the problem is that the constitutional bar is too low in the House and too high in the Senate, but the bigger problem is how both sides (but mostly, and most irrationally, the Republicans) have adopted blinders which allow them to see political opponents as criminals and traitors, and leave them blind to similar faults on their own side. Democrats have been itching to impeach and remove Trump ever since he slipped into office thanks only to the skewed Electoral College vote. And, frankly, he's done much to deserve such condemnation, while making zero effort to ingratiate himself with the majority of the country that voted against him (in 2016, and more emphatically in 2020). Still, I think we have to recognize that impeachment is a political matter, not a moral one. And it is unclear to me that impeaching Trump over the Ukraine scandal did the Democrats any good. So I'm skeptical that a rushed impeachment in the last two weeks of Trump's term is worth the trouble, even given his obvious culpability for the insurrection. Nonetheless, it looks like Democrats will seize on this gesture, as if doing so is the most necessary thing they can do to save democracy. I think they need to focus more on what it takes to win elections.


Erin Banco/Asawin Suebsaeng: Trump officials rush to keep him from sparking another conflict -- at home or abroad.

Charles M Blow: Trump's lackeys must also be punished.

Katelyn Burns: Top Democratic lawmaker says an impeachment vote will come this week: "House Majority Whip James Clyburn said Trump will likely face an impeachment vote by Wednesday."

Paul Campos: Pence should invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office immediately. Pelosi has also argued this, and at this point this seems like the only alternative to her bringing an impeachment vote in the House. One question is whether Pence has the power to win a vote in the Cabinet to do this. I suspect he does, as he was the main person responsible for staffing decisions early on (but figure he lost two votes with the Chao and DeVos resignations). The bigger question is why should he bother. Why isn't it enough just to have his staff bottle Trump up? If Trump can't organize events, speak on camera, tweet, launch a war or a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the inauguration -- why turn him loose (where he can do all but the latter)? Democrats may argue that his behavior was so despicable he needs to be made an example of, but they don't really have the power to do that, and failure could be worse than doing nothing. (Still, how certain can you be that Trump is really bottled up?)

Marjorie Cohn: Trump can be indicted under federal, state and DC laws for his role in Jan. 6. She argues that "Trump must be impeached and removed from office," but I'm more intrigued by the title -- although the specific charges she mentions ("seditious conspiracy" and "inciting insurrection") strike me as a bit on the nebulous side. On the other hand, I don't see a problem with investigating such charges, even if indictment and conviction seem unlikely. Also, if Trump is immune from prosecution due to a self-pardon, wouldn't he lose his 5th Amendment protection to avoid having to answer questions? And wouldn't he still be liable should he perjure himself?

Sean Collins: Americans are divided on wether to remove Trump, according to the polls. The key number here is "69 percent of Republicans saying the president was either not at all or not very much to blame." Even more deranged: "52 percent of Republicans told YouGov that it was actually Biden's fault."

Nicholas Fandos: How to impeach a president in 12 days: Here's what it would take.

Bryan Garsten: Impeach and convict Trump. Congress must defend itself. The problem with this argument is that Congress hasn't defended its constitutional prerogatives for a long time. As they've ceded more and more power to the executive, and adopted the increasing political polarization of the public, members of Congress have reduced themselves to being political team players, subordinate to their party's president, or intractably opposed to an opposition party president. The Judiciary has done a somewhat better job of maintaining its independence, but that's unraveling as well.

John Judis: Democrats: Impeachment is a political trap.

What's the point? To make it impossible for Trump, then 78, to run for office again? Nothing would benefit the Democrats more than another Trump bid.

Politics is not a simple matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of priorities. Yes, Trump did wrong, he is a bad guy. But the country is in the grips of a pandemic -- over 4000 people died on Thursday -- and in December, the country lost 140,000 more jobs. The Democrats have to focus on that not on Trump. The country has spent four years focusing on Trump. It's what he loves. It's his briar patch. Enough is enough, as Lindsey Graham put it.

Fred Kaplan: Trup still has the power to blow up the world.

Annie Karni: On the way out, Melania Trump denounces attacks on her as 'shameful'.

Ed Kilgore:

Ian Millhiser: How Congress can permanently disqualify Trump from office after impeachment. OK, can be done, but odds against it are very steep, as it requires a second vote after a Senate conviction, which requires agreement by two-thirds (so at least 17 Republican Senators).

Ella Nilsen/Li Zhou: Why Democrats are moving toward impeachment -- 12 days before Trump leaves office.

Cameron Peters: Mitch McConnell outlines what a second Trump impeachment trial might look like. Basically, he sees it as a good, inconsequential way to kill time while avoiding dealing with appointments and legislation Biden wants to advance.

Andrew Prokop: Will Trump be impeached or face removal under the 25th Amendment?

Nathaniel Rakich: Slightly more Americans are ready to impeach Trump this time around.

Asha Rangappa: If Trump pardons himself now, he'll be walking into a trap: "Self-pardons threaten the rule of law. The Justice Department would have to charge him."

Katherine Stewart: The roots of Josh Hawley's rage: "Why do so many Republicans appear to be at war with both truth and democracy?" From her backfile, Stewart is author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism; also: Trump or no Trump, religious authoritarianism is here to stay, and Why Trump reigns as King Cyrus: "The Christian right doesn't like the president only for his judges. They like his style." More on Hawley:

Mimi Swartz: Never forget what Ted Cruz did: "The senator has been able to use his Ivy League pedigree as a cudgel. After last week, his credentials should condemn him."

JD Tuccille: Sedition charges are almost always a terrible idea.

Politics as Usual

Some pieces on resignations, regrets, and realignments wound up here, but not enough on the bad jobs report and the need for further economic relief legislation.


Katelyn Burns:

Jen Kirby: Here are the few Republicans who have called for Trump's removal.

Ian Millhiser: America's anti-democratic Senate, in one number: "Once Warnock and Ossoff take their seats, the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half."

Terry Nguyen: Millions of students and adult dependents won't receive a $600 stimulus payment.

Dylan Scott:

  • Trump officials are resigning over the US Capitol siege. Here's who's stepped down so far.

  • President Trump won't attend Joe Biden's inauguration. The last sitting US president to skip his successor's inauguration was Andrew Johnson in 1869, when Ulysses S Grant became president. Johnson and Trump have another thing in common: both were impeached, but escaped Senate conviction (Johnson very narrowly). Well, another thing they share is that they're both notorious for making their racism a big part of their public identity. My reaction on hearing this was "good riddance," but others (including the adjudicators at Twitter) took this as evidence that Trump was fomenting violence at the inaugural, and chickenshit that he is, didn't want to be in the line of fire.

Emily Stewart: "Buckle up": Democrats signal they're ready to go on stimulus.

Li Zhou: "I want him out": Lisa Murkowski calls for Trump's resignation. Further qualifications:

Biden's "Build Back"

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


Quint Forgey/Natasha Bertrand: For CIA director, Biden taps veteran diplomat William Burns.

Umair Irfan: How Joe Biden plans to use executive powers to fight climate change.

Tyler Pager/Josh Gerstein/Kyle Cheney: Biden to tap Merrick Garland for attorney general.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 22.4 million+ cases (14 day change +34%, total up 1.9 million in last week), 374,389 deaths (+43%), 130,781 hospitalized (+11%). January 7 set records with over 4,100 deaths and more than 280,000 new cases. Vaccination first dose is up to 5.9 million. Vaccination is increasing at a slower rate than cases.


Ariel Gold: Is Israel practicing vaccine leadership or medical apartheid?

German Lopez: America's messy Covid-19 vaccine rollout, explained: "The US was supposed to vaccinate 20 million people in December. It didn't get to 5 million."

Josh Rogin: 1,100 State Department employees got vaccinated. At USAID, zero did.

Matt Stieb: US surpasses 4,000 Covid deaths in a day for the first time.

Around the World

Damelya Aitkhozhina: Russia is cracking down on political performance art. It should listen, not lash out.

Robert Herbst: Jonathan Kuttab's one state vision. Kuttab describes his vision in a short book, Beyond the Two-State Solution (ebook available from Nonviolence International).

John Hudson/Anthony Faiola/Karen DeYoung: On its way out the door, Trump administration names Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.

The decision is a part of a blitz of 11th-hour moves by the Trump administration to push through hard-line policies championed by influential domestic political constituencies, despite the complications they will create for State Department lawyers, humanitarian interests abroad and the incoming Biden administration.

"This blatantly politicized designation makes a mockery of what had been a credible, objective measure of a foreign government's active support for terrorism," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). "Nothing remotely like that exists here. In fact, domestic terrorism in the United States poses a far greater threat to Americans than Cuba does."

Nino Pagliccia: Venezuela: The United States is experiencing what it has generated in other countries with its policies of aggression. The view from another nation Trump has tried to destroy democracy in.

Michael D Swaine: Pompeo makes last hour push to set the US up for confrontation with China.

Other Matters of Interest

Ron Charles: Conservatives crying 'Orwell' are downright Orwellian.

Patrick Cockburn: What Assange's victory really means: A judge in the UK ruled not to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he would face espionage charges and a possible sentence of up to 175 years. Assange remains in jail in the UK. More:

Jariel Arvin: 2020 ties for the hottest year on record. Only surprise here is "ties." Note the map of "US 2020 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters" (a record-breaking 22 of them).

Matt Gertz: Fox throws in the towel on its "news" side: Fox is shifting its primetime slots from "news" to "opinion."

The message is clear. Fox executives hold the "news"-side figures responsible for the criticism from Trump, outcry from viewers, and the ratings dip that followed the network's decision desk accurately calling first Arizona and then the 2020 election for President-elect Joe Biden. Rather than being rewarded for telling their audience the truth, they are being punished.

Ishmael Reed: The tragedy of Stanley Crouch.

Ben Smith: Heather Cox Richardson offers a break from the media maelstrom. It's working. On the historian's Substack newsletter. Probably worth reading if not for the hassle of the sales pitch.

Jacob Soll: This is the conservative tradition: "A new history traces an anti-democratic politics of hate, repression, paranoia, and revenge to its origins." Review of Edmund Fawcett's book, Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: White riot, they wanna riot, they wanna riot of their own.

Matt Taibbi: We need a new media system: "If you sell culture war all day, don't be surprised by the real-world consequences." Conclusion is right, but adding just one channel that meets his definition of balance doesn't seem like much of an answer. Moreover, what makes you think he'd be happy if such a thing existed? He condemns the New York Times ("Criticism of Republicans is as baked into New York Times coverage as the lambasting of Democrats is at Fox"), even though their opinion pages are meticulously balanced between center-right and center-center, and they can be counted on to spread establishmentarian takes on everything.

Jeff Wise: Two-mile nose dive by a Boeing 737 in Indonesia as yet unexplained.


PS: A right-wing relative posted a meme saying "63 million Trump voters will never leave him! I am one of them. Are you one of us?" I rarely respond to taunts like that, but this time I commented:

I expect that most will leave him, and sooner rather than later. He's a loser, a whiny self-centered baby, a national embarrassment. Even if you once thought you liked him, before long you'll be glad to be rid of him.

I might have added that even the meme already allowed that 11 million Trump voters had already left him. He replied with something snarky, and I didn't pursue it further, but one other commenter said he didn't understand why folks were so hung up on Trump personally.

Sunday, January 3, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Woke up thinking about a possible introduction, but nine hours later my brain is fried. I not only can't remember what I was thinking, I no longer care. So this feels like a stub, a mere exercise, but I vaguely recall a few hours back thinking this is still a fairly efficient way to digest the week's news. I've learned a few things along the way, and I've written more than usual below.

One thing I will note is that I'm about 3/4 through Kurt Andersen's Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History. Much of the book covers a story I've contemplated writing for much of the subject period: he has a fundamental understanding of the mechanics of increasing inequality, and how those levers were plied by Republicans (and way too often Democrats) since the late 1970s. His characterization of the architects of this counterrevolution as "evil geniuses" is well put, although somewhere in that last quarter of the book I expect they will lose the "geniuses" part. (Not that the right-wing is incapable of clever sophistry any more, but as their rationalizations have worn thin, they'd rather just throw their weight around.)

One key idea that I hadn't thought much about is Andersen's theses about change and nostalgia. He describes the 1960s and early 1970s as the period of "peak new," followed by an extended period of reaction and nostalgia. He points out that even fashion, design, and art have ceased changing after 2000, whereas during the 20th century it was relatively easy to identify the decade any photo was taken in. What this means isn't always clear. For instance, he points out that the 2020 election came down to competing nostalgias.

It occurs to me that intense change -- change so substantial and accelerated we're conscious of it happening in real time -- is not only rare in human history, but can largely be consigned to the 20th century. I'm imagining an S-curve where the steep slope is limited to 1900-2000. Not sure what to label the Y-axis: maybe domination of and estrangement from nature? I must admit I am fond of the idea of balancing time/progress on the fulcrum of my birth in 1950. Long ago it occurred to me that there's never been a "generation gap" like the one between my generation and my parents'. As for how dramatic the changes were around 1900, my eyes were first opened up by John Berger's essay, "The Moment of Cubism." Technological change over the 19th century was substantial (and accelerating), but didn't come close to the impact after 1900. Similarly, we haven't stopped since 2000, but the pace seems slowed, and the scale reduced.


Lost track of all the deaths this week, but did want to mention Judy Loganbill, a former Democratic state legislator here in Wichita. The obituary doesn't do her justice. She was a teacher before she got into politics, and she was a lifelong peace activist, who served on the board of the Wichita Peace organization.

I also wanted to mention Dawn Wells, the actress who played Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan's Island, as sort of the archetype of Kansas womanhood. I watched that show religiously, but the role became even more memorable for me through Tom Carson's novel, Gilligan's Wake, where she represents archetypal America in her ability to regain her virginity after every lapse. Where I do have a bone to pick is Carson's genteel treatment of Bob Dole, whose rank in the pantheon of American political scoundrels was fixed in my mind by his scurrilous 1972 campaign against Bill Roy.


That Was the Year That Was

Michelle Cottle: The 2020 high school yearbook of Donald J Trump.

Chauncey DeVega: Top 10 reasons why making year-end lists won't save America. Article doesn't even begin to follow from the title. I think the annual EOY list exercise does two things: it encourages thinking comparatively over a period of time longer than the usual right now; and it usually reinforces the idea that years are much more alike than different. Could be that 2020 will prove the exception. Right now, I feel that movie lists are even phonier than whoever won whatever major league sports titles anyone bothered to hold. On the other hand, books and TV shows have more lead time, and are delivered straight to the home, so they're probably more or less normal. Music? Well, that's harder to say. Nobody toured, so music product meant to promote tours had to be recontextualized, if it made any sense at all. (Taylor Swift and Sturgill Simpson probably made the best use of that change.) At the other extreme, a lot of half-assed DIY product appeared, most soon forgotten. (Brad Mehldau's Suite: April 2000 and Hamell on Trial's The Pandemic Songs are two exceptions.)

Josh Kovensky: It's Rudy! The melting mayor beats Cunningham to become TPM's 2020 Duke of Dukes.

Paul Krugman: 2020 was the year Reaganism died: "The government promised to help -- and it did." Well, not so fast. Government in 2020 was divided, and while some parts of it tried to help (and indeed did), other parts didn't try, or didn't help, or in some cases actively worked to make a bad situation worse. If Reaganism died in 2020, expect a whole year of zombie columns in 2021 -- as you may recall, Krugman spent much of the last decade railing against zombie economics (assumptions proven wrong decades ago, yet still somehow directing politicians to further folly). On the other hand, we should try to remember the brief moment in March when the economy and the stock market collapsed and Republicans were so desperate for something they let Democrats largely craft a bill that actually helped people. Too bad Democrats didn't get (or claim) more credit for that. By the end of the year, Republicans had restored the people's cynicism about the corruption and/or ineffectiveness of government, which left them nicely positioned to obstruct Democratic efforts to solve or reduce problems, without getting blamed themselves.

Jeb Lund: Ron DeSantis is TNR's 2020 Scoundrel of the Year: "An heir to Trumpism, the Florida governor has concealed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and fomented a depraved indifference to human life."

Derek Robertson: The eight pieces of pop culture that defined the Trump era. A pretty maudlin list, half of which totally escaped my attention -- perhaps the lesson is how little pop culture we actually share these days?

Spencer Sunshine: 2020 was a record year for far right violence in the US.

Several publications and writers looked back at what they wrote in 2020, and recommended a few articles:

Trump's Last Days

Felipe De La Hoz: Citing the pandemic, CBP has expelled newborn US citizens with their migrant mothers.

Richard Fausset: Trump calls Georgia Senate races 'illegal and invalid'. I doubt that means anything, but the implication is that he has inside knowledge that the Republicans are losing the elections. The two races are to be decided by the voters on Tuesday. Money and advance voting are off the charts. More:

  • Becca Andrews: Kelly Loeffler blows all the dog whistles at once.

  • Astead W Herndon/Richard Fausset: Georgia Republicans deliver persistent message: Fear the Democrats: "Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are resting their re-election hopes on a strategy that calls more attention to what they're against than what they support." That's pretty true for Republicans everywhere. Roger Marshall's Senate campaign here in Kansas was nothing but a long, primal scream about the dire consequences of a Democrat (any Democrat, even one who spent almost all of her political life as a Republican) ever getting elected from Kansas, and he won by a substantial margin. Still, you have to wonder how much longer they can cry wolf like that -- also, how long they can dodge their own crooked and malignant records.

  • Jonathan Lee Walton: Raphael Warnock's Georgia critics don't understand Black churches: "The prophetic tradition is about loving America -- and holding it to account." Ever notice how right-wingers, including racists, project their fears onto their opponents, expecting them to respond in kind to their hate and ignorance?

Christopher Flavelle: How Trump tried, but largely failed, to derail America's top climate report.

Ryan J Foley: Federal judge in Iowa ridicules Trump's pardons: US District Judge Robert Pratt: "It's not surprising that a criminal like Trump pardons other criminals. But apparently to get a pardon, one has to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer or a turkey." I don't think Rod Blagojevich qualifies on any of those counts, but Trump recognized a kindred spirit in someone convicted of trying to sell an appointment. What happens when Trump gets tied into a similar influence-peddling scheme?

Amy Gardner: 'I just want to find 11,780 votes': In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor.

The rambling and at times incoherent conversation offered a remarkable glimpse of how consumed and desperate the president remains about his loss, unwilling or unable to let the matter go and still believing he can reverse the results in enough battleground states to remain in office.

"There's no way I lost Georgia," Trump said, a phrase he repeated again and again on the call. "There's no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes."

More comments:

Shayna Jacobs: NY prosecutor hires forensic accounting experts as Trump criminal probe escalates.

Julius Krein: Donald Trump's influence will evaporate once he leaves office. Here's why.

Andrew O'Hehir: Josh Hawley becomes first GOP senator to contest Biden's certification, likely forcing Jan. 6 fight. But not the last:

Ashley Parker: Trump to give ally Nunes the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Cameron Peters: Louie Gohmert's failed election lawsuit, briefly explained: It's slightly more technical, but the point of the lawsuit was to put aside the votes and let the Vice President decide who becomes President. A Trump-appointed judge dismissed, arguing that Gohmert "lacks standing" to bring such a lawsuit. That may be a technicality, but it's rarely been more obvious. Pence, by the way, seems to have leaned both ways:

Eve Peyser: The time Trump ranted about hair spray quality to coal miners.

Jamil Smith: Trump's lost cause: "The fight underway to keep Trumpism alive post-presidency has an ugly and worrisome precedent in American history." Key term is "lost cause." When I first saw this piece, I figured it might focus more narrowly on Trump's love for the monuments that helped perpetuate the Confederate slavery regime, but this suggests Trump aspires to a greater level of martyrdom.

Michael Stratford: Trump opens up federal dollars for private school vouchers amid pandemic.

Politics as Usual

The last days of the 116th Congress ended with an override of Trump's veto of the Defense Department funding act, and Mitch McConnell blocking Trump's proposal for $2,000 stimulus checks (embraced by Democrats, and passed in the House). Then, as of January 3, the newly elected 117th Congress took over (See: Cameron Peters: A historic new Congress has just been sworn in.) The new Congress has a reduced Democratic majority in the House (but not enough to keep Nancy Pelosi from being elected Speaker), and a reduced and tenuous Republican advantage in the Senate, subject to two runoff elections in Georgia (on Tuesday, January 6), which could result in a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Pence holding the tie-breaker vote until Kamala Harris becomes Vice President on January 20.


David Atkins: House Dems signal bolder action by weakening self-imposed austerity rules. You may (but probably don't) recall how the Democrats in the House celebrated their new majority status in 2019 by adopting unnecessary and counterproductive "PAYGO" rules. Rejecting them this time is less a victory of "progressives" over "centrists" than a win for people who want to be able to do things vs. those who don't.

Daniel Block: The new surprise billing law is an imperfect win.

Sarah K Burris: Nancy Pelosi's house vandalized with dead pig's head. By the way, Mitch McConnell's house was also vandalized, albeit less menacingly, allowing the mainstream media to achieve bipartisan nirvana; see: Meryl Kornfield: Homes of Pelosi, McConnell are vandalized after Senate fails to pass $2,000 stimulus checks.

Ben Ehrenreich: The year of magical thinking in American politics: "Trump campaigned on one kind of nostalgia, while Biden campaigned on another. The less regressive vision won out, but we're still hurtling toward the abyss."

Matt Ford:

Brittany Gibson: How Georgia got organized.

Eric Levitz:

Ian Millhiser: How Bernie Sanders plans to force a vote on $2,000 Covid-19 relief checks. The idea was to hold up the vote on overriding Trump's veto of the Defense Department funding bill, trying to force McConnell into agreeing to a vote on the $2,000 checks Trump wants and the House agreed to. It didn't work, in part because most Democrats were more anxious to override Trump's veto than to pass the checks. For one take on this, see Jake Johnson: Stimulus standoff ends in "Democratic surrender": After McConnell blocks $2,000 checks, Dems move on. Some more pieces on $2K (I also wrote about this under St Clair, below):

Emily Stewart:

Biden Prospects

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


Shikha Dalmia: How Biden can future-proof America's immigration system.

Bruce Gyory: How Biden won: Six hard truths: "Digging into the exit poll data on gender, education, age, and more."

Alex Thompson/Theodoric Meyer: Janet Yellen made millions in Wall Street, corporate speeches.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 20.5 million+ cases (14 day change -5%, total up 1.4 million in last week), 351,068 deaths (flat), 123,614 hospitalized (+10%).


Matthew Chapman: GOP Gov. Kristi Noem called out by federal judge for having "done little" to stop Covid-19 spread.

Sumner Concepcion: WH Covid task force members push back at Trump's bogus claim of inflated death rates.

Dan Diamond: How Trump warped HHS long before Covid-19.

Quint Forgey: Fauci predicts normal life won't return in US before fall 2021: Sounds like another example of him toning down his messaging based on calculations about how much gloom the American people can take. I doubt the old normal will ever return, but sure, by Fall 2021, a new normal for acceptable risk in social and business interactions may be possible. Before that, less so. [PS: Here's a survey of "11 top experts" that predicts "a steady decline in cases by next fall, and back to normal in a few years": Here's how the pandemic finally ends.]

German Lopez: Everyone failed on Covid-19: "The US's coronavirus epidemic is an American failure, not solely a Trump or Republican one." That may be the most general truth, but Trump, Pence, Kushner, and a long list of other Republicans distinctively stamped the mass failure. Also, note that nearly everything that Congress did to lessen the impact of the shutdown and help masses of people through the crisis was driven by Democrats, and often obstructed by Republicans. And while deep biases, like promotion of business needs over everything else, also affected Democratic officials, Republicans were more single-mindedly devoted to that creed, partly because they their contempt for most Americans allowed them to ignore the health and security implications of their preferred policies. Another factor is Republicans' unique fear and ignorance of science. Scientists and public policy wonks have been studying and developing countermeasures for pandemics at least since the 1990s, so when this one hit, public health officials had a good idea what to do. Their success around the world correlates directly with political systems which followed their advice. America's federal system, its long subordination to business interests, and our deeper commitment to individualism, made fighting the pandemic harder here than in most other countries, but you can go back to any date and find political choices that made the situation worse or could have helped. And nearly always you will find Republicans doing the wrong things. Even if you look at the purple map here which purports to show that "Every state has too many Covid-19 cases per capita," the only two states that aren't maximum purple are Hawaii and Vermont.

Anna North: Elected Congress member Luke Letlow has died of Covid-19: "The Louisiana Republican is the first Congress member or member-elect to die from the disease." He was 41. Also note:

Brian Resnick: The worst idea of 2020: "Natural herd immunity" as a pandemic relief strategy.

Rachel Roubein: Trump misses 20 million Covid shot target.

Waler Shapiro: The importance of brutal honesty in this pandemic winter.

Michael D Shear/Maggie Haberman/Noah Weiland/Sharon LaFraniere/Mark Mazzetti: Trump's focus as the pandemic raged: What would it mean for him? Didn't Trump say that after the election Covid-19 would drop out of the news? Maybe he just meant nobody important would talk about it anymore? Indeed, he hasn't said a word. You might take that as further evidence of how extreme his narcissism is.

David Wallace-Wells: America's vaccine rollout is already a disaster. Big problem here is that only a small percentage of the vaccines allotted have actually been administered. A chart in the article works out to about 13.5%. The more current numbers at Bloomberg's vaccine tracker are better, at 32.8% shots used, but still run the risk of vaccine shots expiring unused. By the way, at the moment Kansas is by far the worst state in the nation, with 17.1% of shots used (compared to Mississippi at 25.3% and Alaska at 26.7%, or for that matter Guam at 22.0%). Kansas is also dead last with 0.67% of the population vaccinated (Mississippi has 0.71%, Alaska 2.52%). The Bloomberg stats also go international. The one nation that is far ahead of the pack on vaccination is Israel, with 10% vaccinated. However, see: Oliver Holmes/Hazem Balousha: Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.

Ed Yong: Where year two of the pandemic will take us: "As vaccines roll out, the US will face a choice about what to learn and what to forget."

Around the World

Mike Brand: Why US foreign policy should focus on the root causes of violence.

Michael Crowley/Charlie Savage/Eric Schmitt: Pompeo weighs plan to place Cuba on US terrorism sponsor list: "The move would complicate any effort by the incoming Biden administration to resume President Barack Obama's thaw in relations with Havana."

Jerusalem Demsas: Argentina becomes the first large Latin American country to legalize abortion.

Eric Schmitt: In abrupt reversal of Iran strategy, Pentagon orders aircraft carrier home: "After weeks of escalation and threatening language, the Defense Department is sending mixed messages as the anniversary of the death of an Iranian general nears." A couple days earlier, Schmitt wrote: Pentagon sends more B-52s to Middle East to deter Iranian attacks on US troops. As recently as December 2, Schmitt co-wrote: Trump sought options for attacking Iran to stop its growing nuclear program. More on Iran:

Alex Ward: How military superiority made America less safe: "America's dominance wasn't by happenstance. It was a choice." Interview with Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy. One interesting thing here is that Wertheim dates the idea of supreme US global power to 1940, before US entry into WWII. Indeed, his short book ends in 1945, with "The Debate That Wasn't," so he doesn't really get into the fateful decision to repurpose the idea of global supremacy as a cudgel in the global class strugle, playing up the threat posed by the Soviet Union and the growth of Communist-led anti-colonial movements.

Other Matters of Interest

Tim Barker: Life Beyond Markets, with Mike Konczal: Interview with Konczal, about his forthcoming book, Freedom From the Market: America's Fight to Liberate Itself From the Grip of the Invisible Hand. [Pub date Jan. 12; I have a copy on order.]

Christopher Ingraham: World's richest men added billions to their fortunes last year as others struggled: "Billionaires have added about $1 trillion to their total net worth since the pandemic began."

Ethan Iverson: Modern Hollywood discovers its jazz 'Soul': Pixar's Christmas release is the best jazz film in a long time. But then, there isn't a lot of competition."

Ian Millhiser: The decline and fall of the American death penalty: "The number of death sentences and executions in the US has fallen off a cliff since the 1990s. 2020 continued that trend." Despite Trump and Barr.

Ellen Nakashima: Microsoft says Russians hacked its network, viewing source code.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: It is what it is, but is that all there is? Lots of things, starting with tweets from Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman opposing "untargeted" $2,000 relief checks. Any other day they'd be complaining that progressives are undermining pragmatic compromises by insisting on ideal solutions. But no one thinks the checks are an ideal solution. The only reason they're on the table is Trump demanded them, and of all the things Trump's willing to go along with, they're not so bad. My own take is that they're not relief (as we normally think of it) but a one-shot experiment with guaranteed income. Sure, some people who get the checks will simply bank them as a hedge against future expenses, but what's wrong with giving people a bit more liquidity? Guaranteed income doesn't stop working when people are able to balance their books; that's actually when it starts making a real difference. Of course, nobody's touting it in those terms. Some other items of note here:

  • "981: the number of people in the US shot and killed by police in 2020." Presumably that includes the one shot and killed by police last week less than two blocks from here, which gave 2020 the record homicide count for Wichita. I expect it will be found justified, and I see no reason to protest such a finding. By the way, two more homicides on Jan. 1 set us on a pace to smash the 2020 record, by a factor of 12.
  • Sketches for US Space Force uniforms and insignia: "They look like uniforms for Nazi school crossing guards."
  • "I was gutted to hear of the death of Barry Lopez, whose Of Wolves and Men and Arctic Dreams exerted a profound, and still lingering, influence on my thinking about the natural world."
  • "On the last day of one of the hottest years on record, featuring some of the most vicious wildfires, hurricanes and cyclones in history, Alaska is about to hit by its strongest storm in more than a century (if not ever)."
  • In lieu of his usual current reading and listening lists, offers lists of "25 best books" and "25 best recordings" (I've heard 24, have 4 A-, most of the rest mid/high B+; I haven't read any of the books, but most look interesting).

Sunday, December 27, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Spent three days this past week working on Christmas Eve dinner. Barely looked at the computer for email, but pretty much enjoyed a total news blackout. Also only played old music I didn't have to write about. Still got occasional reports from my wife about various stupid and/or evil things Trump did. Wound up feeling even more disgust and contempt for him than ever before. I'm surprised that's still possible, but one still learns something every day.


Trump's Last Days

It's beginning to look like Trump's reconciling himself, not to the obvious fact that he lost the election but at least to the realization that nobody's going to save him from the loss and hand him a second term. Thus, he's started to move on to his final, most criminal stage: using his remaining powers to inflict as much damage as possible on the government, the economy, our sense of justice, and his own legacy. It's an appalling thing to witness, and likely to become even more so before Biden takes over on January 20.


Sasha Abramsky: Trump is guilty of sedition and must be brought to justice: "He's violating his oath to protect the Constitution, and every day that he's allowed to remain in power, the threat to our democracy grows." First, sedition (like treason) is a bullshit charge. You might argue that because he is president (still), there should be some limits on what he can say, but there's no practical way to enforce it -- about all you can do is counter that he's being stupid, evil, and/or a gross nincompoop who should be deeply ashamed of himself. Second, it's a little late to say that anyone must be brought to justice, given all those guilty of far worse crimes than throwing a tantrum over losing an election, even if you limit the time frame to this past year.

Isaac Arnsdorf: Inside Trump and Barr's last-minute killing spree: "Private executioners paid in cash. Middle-of-the-night killings. False or incomplete justifications. ProPublic obtained court records showing how the outgoing administration is using its final days to execute the most federal prisoners since World War II."

Shawn Boburg/Dalton Bennett/Neena Satija/Ken Hoffman: Ex-cop hits truck thinking it held 750,000 fraudulent ballots, police say. It held air conditioning parts.

The episode illustrates the extreme and sometimes dangerous tactics that a set of conservative groups have employed in an effort to substantiate President Trump's unproven allegations of widespread voting fraud in the election. Theories about truckloads of missing mail-in ballots, manipulated voting machines and illegal mail-in ballot collections have abounded in far-right circles, despite a lack of credible evidence, leading to threats of violence against election workers and officials.

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: Trump's latest batch of pardons favors the well-connected.

Kaitlan Collins: Giuliani told to preserve all records as lawyers for Dominion warn legal action is 'imminent': Moves toward a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems over the conspiracy treaties floated by Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

Sumner Concepcion: Dominion CEO weighs potential lawsuit against Trump for pushing bogus fraud claims.

Paul Dickinson: I sued Blackwater for the massacre of Iraqi civilians. Trump just pardoned those convicted killers. "Trump's pardon of the Blackwater mercenaries who murdered 14 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square shows the world what justice means in the United States." But the entire war was an unindicted, unprosecuted crime, the culpability increasing all the way to GW Bush at the top. That says all you need to know about the state of justice in the United States. The tiny number of soldiers and mercenaries who did get prosecuted were selected not because they killed and/or tortured Iraqis -- thousands did that, as directed by US policy -- but because they violated orders, so grossly the military felt the need to make an example of them, in order to maintain command order. What the pardons do is to show that the military cannot maintain discipline within its own ranks, let alone act as a viable occupying force. That's something to consider before inserting military forces in foreign countries where they cannot help but self-destruct. Of course, also consider the fact that no occupying military force, no matter how disciplined, can possibly be viewed and respected as just.

Franklin Foer: The triumph of Trump's kleptocracy.

Matt Gertz: Trump's Fox News pardon pipeline: A comprehensive review: "Fox's programming and personalities influenced at least 21 of Trump's acts of clemency -- so far." Update of an article from 2019. Expect another update around January 20.

Michelle Goldberg: Trump's most disgusting pardons.

Spencer S Hsu/Kareem Fahim: Trump administration weighing legal immunity for Saudi crown prince in alleged assassination plot. Mohammed bin Salman is being sued in US courts for his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Trump could intercede on the Prince's behalf.

Alex Isenstadt: Senior Trump advisers prepare to launch policy group. Brooke Rollins, Larry Kudlow. Other names are more speculative. Kudlow says, "The president is very enthusiastic about this."

Ankush Khardori:

Michael Kranish: Trump vowed to drain the swamp. Then he granted clemency to three former congressmen convicted of federal crimes.

Anita Kumar/Gabby Orr: Inside Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the election.

Anita Kumar/Melanie Zanona/Marianne Levine: 'Complete clusterf---': Trump leaves Washington in limbo: "No one in the White House or on Capitol Hill appears to know what Trump's plan is -- or even if there is one."

The repercussions of inaction could be dramatic. If lawmakers and White House aides can't persuade the president to sign a funding and Covid relief package by Monday, the government will enter the fourth shutdown of Trump's presidency. And millions of Americans had been told to expect another round of direct payments from the government shortly, while businesses across the country were expecting more financial assistance.

Yet Trump left town Wednesday afternoon without saying a word about the bill, departing for Mar-a-Lago, his South Florida resort, where he plans to stay through the new year. And no one seems to know what will happen next.

German Lopez: Trump pardons corrupt members of Congress and allies caught in Russia investigation.

Eric Lipton: In last rush, Trump grants mining and energy firms access to public lands.

Amanda Marcotte: Remember that stupid thing Donald Trump did? Hard as it is to pick, here are the top 10.

Tim Naftali: Trump's pardons make the unimaginable real. Much about Watergate here, how Nixon was tempted to pardon his way out of the jam, but held back, so Trump has already broken new ground in pardoning his accomplices -- and one only wonders how much further he's willing to go. One thing that's clear already is that neither public opinion nor respect for democratic norms will inhibit him.

Erica Newland: I'm haunted by what I did as a lawyer in the Trump Justice Department. Newland worked in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2016-18.

Tina Nguyen: Trump leans on QAnon figures in flailing effort to overturn election.

Paul R Pillar: The big finale: is Trump dangerous enough to start a war? Tricky territory here: calling Trump "dangerous" just strokes his ego. A better word choice is "deranged." Trump seems to be angling for a parting salvo on Iran. He's moving forces into position -- not that there weren't plenty already. But he doesn't have enough time for a full-blown war, and I rather doubt that the Joint Chiefs would go all in for a lame duck president. But there's little reason, other than his innate slothfulness, to think he's not deranged enough to try.

Nikki McCann Ramirez: A far-right architecture obsession just became a Trump executive order -- and Tucker Carlson was the middleman:

On December 21, President Donald Trump signed an executive order designating "classical" architecture the preferred style for federal buildings in Washington, D.C. The order represents the transformation of an far-right obsession into federal law, and the long-gestating effort was aided by Fox host Tucker Carlson earlier this year.

James Risen: Snowden and Assange deserve pardons. So do the whistleblowers Trump imprisoned. Reality Winner is also pictured. Evidently there's been some discussion of pardoning the first two. Indeed, one can argue that Assange was a major asset for Trump in 2016, and that Trump might have fared better in 2020 with Assange free to dig up dirt on Democrats -- something he couldn't do while in jail. (I'd put more emphasis on Trump's job performance as a reason he lost.) Still, I'd be pleased to see any/all pardoned. But if Trump pardons any of them, expect a lot of security-fetish Democrats to throw a conniption fit.

Aaron Rupar: Fox News's post-Trump identity crisis, explained by an expert: Interview with Matt Gertz, of Media Matters.

Maggie Severns: A Trump executive order set the stage for Falwell's political activities.

Ben Smith: The 'red slime' lawsuit that could sink right-wing media: "Voting machine companies threaten 'highly dangerous' cases against Fox, Newsmax and OAN, says Floyd Abrams."

Kimberly Wehle: No, Flynn's martial law plot isn't sedition. But it's not necessarily legal either. "If it incites violence, the former general's proposal to redo the election is not covered by free speech protections."

Matt Zapotosky: Undercutting Trump, Barr says there's no basis for seizing voting machines, using special counsels for election fraud, Hunter Biden.

Matt Zapotosky/Josh Dawsey/Colby Itkowitz/Jonathan O'Connell: Trump pardons Charles Kushner, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone in latest wave of clemency grants.

Politics as Usual

Congress passed a $900 billion Covid-19 relief bill, combined with a $1.4 trillion bill to keep the government from shutting down by allowing all sorts of spending through September. See Ella Nilsen/Li Zhou: Congress has officially passed a $900 billion Covid-19 relief package. Trump whined and pouted without signing the bill (at least as of late Saturday). See: Alexandra Olson/Jill Colvin: Trump fiddles as unemployment benefits are about to expire for millions. Sunday evening, Trump finally signed -- see Seung Min Kim/Jeff Stein/Mike DeBonis/Josh Dawsey: Trump signs stimulus and government spending bill into law, averting shutdown. Or, as the New York Times put it, Trump signs pandemic relief bill after unemployment aid lapses.


FiveThirtyEight: Latest polls of the Georgia Senate runoffs: Basically dead even. I'm not sure why anyone would split their vote, but the numbers show a 0.5% edge for Perdue over Ossoff and a 0.6% edge for Warnock over Loeffler.

Dean Baker:

  • Quick note on the Federal Reserve Board: So Republican Sen. Pat Toomey "insisted on adding language to the pandemic rescue package, stripping the Fed of emergency powers." Granted, the Fed mostly uses its powers to rescue banks and ensure them profits (remember "the Greenspan put"?), the clear intent here is to make the recession longer and deeper under Biden.

    Just for background, we know that the Republicans are perfectly fine with sabotaging the economy in order to hurt the political prospects of a Democrat in the White House. This is exactly what they did under President Obama, as they demanded recovery killing austerity as they feigned concern about deficits. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell openly said that his job was to make Obama a one-term president.

  • Bloomberg is concerned that Janet Yellen's dollar policy may lessen wealth inequality. Of course, Toomey's concern is not just a cynical political ploy. He's also concerned that the rich might suffer.

Eric Levitz: 7 surprisingly good policies buried in the stimulus-omnibus bill.

  1. The most significant climate-change legislation in at least a decade (and arguably ever).
  2. An end to most forms of surprise medical billing.
  3. The most significant anti-money laundering reform in decades.
  4. A simultaneous breakthrough in higher-education and criminal-justice-reform policy.
  5. Two cool new museums.
  6. An expansion of rural broadband.
  7. Medicaid for Marshall Islanders.

German Lopez: Trump vetoes military spending bill, potentially setting up first veto override of his presidency.

Natalie Shure: Congress doesn't care about your surprise ambulance bill.

Emily Stewart: The stimulus bill includes a "historic" provision to expand broadband internet access.

Li Zhou:

Biden Prospects

See Building Biden's Cabinet for a survey of who's been selected for Biden's top administration positions, and who's being considered for still open slots. Another updated scorecard is Intelligencer's All of president-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominees. For an evaluation, see Robert Kuttner: Biden's cabinet: The scorecard so far.

I also want to point out an extensive series of articles, collectively titled Day One Agenda, at The American Prospect. I've linked to some below, and others in previous weeks. Most focus on things that Biden can do with existing executive powers, without having to go hat-in-hand to get support from a hostile Congress. A lot of these are unlikely to happen -- one article,, Joe Biden is unhappy about the Day One Agenda, is conscious enough to argue over it, as does The Day One Agenda polls pretty well -- but the vast scope of these pieces shows that the left is bursting with good ideas for better government. For further debate, see Ryan D Doerfler: Executive orders and smart lawyers won't save us, and the reply by David Dayen: Make progress on all fronts: A response to Jacobin.


Glenn Greenwald: With Biden's new threats, the Russia discourse is more reckless and dangerous than ever: "The US media demands inflammatory claims be accepted with no evidence, while hacking behavior routinely engaged in by the US is depicted as aberrational." My main complaint here is that I don't recall US hacking as ever having been depicted as anything -- aside from rare whistleblower complaints, it's simply not something American media tries to report on.

Jeff Hauser/Erich Pica: The most important Biden appointee no one has heard of: "The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs can determine the scope of the Biden presidency."

Mike Pearl: The green fantasy and messy reality of nuclear power.

Robert Wright: Five things about Gen. Lloyd Austin.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 19.1 million+ cases (14 day change -9%, total up 1.4 million in last week), 333,197 deaths (-71%), 117,344 hospitalized (+11%). Dec. 18 had a peak of 251,447 new cases, with Dec. 26 just barely down to 225,930 -- the drop to 91,922 cases on Christmas day is what's dragging the average down, but that may have more to do with reporting than with testing.

I saw a report last week that 4 of the top 5 counties nationwide for per capita death rates were in Kansas, topped by Edwards County. I had an aunt who used to live in Kinsley there, and I've spent a lot of time there, especially before 1970. The town has declined considerably, with the county population dropping under 3,000, so a small number of deaths makes a big blip. The map above shows an average of 10 cases per 100,000 in Edwards, but 147 in neighboring Pawnee County, and 0 in Hodgeman and Kiowa Counties. (Hodgeman, by the way, was where my great-great-grandfather homesteaded in 1867. My father was born there in 1923, although his birth certificate says Spearville, just over the Ford County line (and just a couple miles from Edwards County).


Dean Baker: Helping the NYT understand its reporting: China's coverup was not the cause of the worldwide spread of the Coronavirus.

Donald G McNeil Jr: How much herd immunity is enough? Without doing any math, my initial guess was that it would take about 80% immunity to significantly reduce the number of cases, and a good deal more to "banish it." Evidently people who should have done the math were throwing out 60-70% estimates, but when pressed recently Fauci is talking 75-85% (publicly, and 90% privately).

Brian Resnick/Umair Irfan: The new UK coronavirus mutations, explained.

Around the World

Andrew J Bacevich: Reflections on Vietnam and Iraq: The lessons of two failed wars. [Reprinted from TomDispatch, minus Tom Engelhardt's introduction.] While I'm pleased to see these two debacles linked in print, the only lesson of Vietnam is that Americans are incapable of learning lessons, even (or perhaps especially) from failures. Perhaps chances are better for Iraq: the memory is less distant, and less clouded by overarching mission -- the "global war on terror" was always more nebulous than the anti-communist crusade, and didn't even fit the situation in Iraq. But the similarities are critical, hence one should draw the same basic lessons: both are wars where the US attempted to impose its capitalist economic system on nations accustomed to resisting colonialism, and did so ultimately with military force, with little (if any) respect for the lives and welfare of the people. Sure, there were moments when the US talked its game of democracy, but it was always conditional on voting for the right politicians. The only things that made Iraq less of a disaster than Vietnam was that the US was able to disunite resistance by inciting civil war (between Kurds and Arabs, and between Shiite and Sunni Arabs), playing each side against the other. I'd draw two basic lessons from these wars: one is that the US has to be more respectful of the people and their welfare, even if that means letting them run their own affairs and organize their society and economy along lines we don't consider ideal; the other is that armed force is not a real option -- it is counterproductive, both in that it destroys the nation one hoped to save, and in that it is corrosive of the moral values of the occupying force. Also at TomDispatch:

  • Tom Engelhardt: Partyland 2020. Subtitle asks "what if, after 9/11, George W Bush had thrown parties?" But if memory serves, Bush did shill for Disneyland immediately after 9/11, while plotting to make his grudge war against Afghanistan even more unwinnable by extending it to Iraq and beyond, promoting an "Axis of Evil" that extended as far as North Korea. As Trump showed with Covid-19, America believes in partying through its wars.

  • Rebecca Gordon: All-War-All-the-Time?

Katrin Bennhold: She called police over a neo-Nazi threat. But the neo-Nazis were inside the police. In Germany.

Chas Freeman: The growing peril of war with China over Taiwan.

Fred Kaplan: Should the US retaliate for Russia's big hack? Any time I read about the need to deter attacks my bullshit detector goes off. Kaplan tries to make a case for nuclear deterrence, and that's not totally wrong, as there is a clear line separating use of nuclear weapons from other weapons, and nuclear weapons represent a clear escalation beyond any other weapons. Still, the main reason nuclear deterrence works is that nobody actually wants nuclear war, so deterrence reinforces preferred behavior. But how is it even possible to deter hacking?

Any assessment must also recognize the following: We do this sort of thing too, and have been doing it for a long time. Our cyberattacks tend to be more focused on specific targets, for specific aims. But the National Security Agency, Cyber Command, and certain units of the CIA have long been carving "backdoors" into foreign networks, roaming around in the critical infrastructure of adversaries, and planting malware that can damage this infrastructure on command.

In 2014, after realizing there was no way for America's vital networks to defend themselves from a sophisticated cyberattack, Cyber Command adopted a policy of "active defense." Defining the concept, Adm. Michael Rogers, the commander at the time, said the "biggest focus" would be "to attempt to interdict the attack before it ever got to us" -- in other words, to get inside the adversary's network, in order to detect him preparing an attack, then deflect or preempt it.

So, before U.S. leaders set about responding to the SolarWinds hack, they should articulate how it differs from the things that we sometimes do -- why the Russians deserve punishment and we don't.

Jessica J Lee: It's time to end the Korean War: "Seventy years into the conflict, Biden can resolve the original forever war."

Ted Snider: Israel-linked assassinations: How much is the US really involved?

Other Matters of Interest

Dave Barry: Dave Barry's year in review 2020: "And we thought past years were awful."

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: The unacceptable costs of appeasing MAGA Nation: "Why we can't afford to make peace with white supremacists."

Thomas Geoghegan: Labor power is the key to racial equity: "The next big American conversation about race should take place in a union hall." Part of a series called Unbreaking America: "How to fix a country that was already cracking up before Trump came along." Some other pieces:

Parker Molloy: A war on Christmas story: How Fox News built the dumbest part of America's culture war.

New York Times: Remembering some of the artists, innovators and thinkers we lost in the past year. A somewhat idiosyncratic but interesting list, topped by Shere Hite.

Alex Pareene: The return of corporate tax incentives is a bad omen for blue states.

Kirkpatrick Sale: Is society collapsing? Author of the first major history of SDS (1973), recalls a bet he made 25 years ago "that global society led by the United States would collapse in the year 2020 from a confluence of causes created by modern technology out of control." Earlier this year (February 11), before the pandemic really hit, he wrote a short book to make his case for winning the bet (The Collapse of 2020). This is a précis. Not sure that he won the bet, but I'd say he's closer than his "won't even be close" opponent.

Zachary Siegel: The deadliest year in the history of US drug use.

Micah L Sifry: Why did Obama forget who brought him to the dance? "His memoir is strangely silent about the people who organized for him." This reminds me of the adage that while both parties despise their bases, Republicans at least fear theirs, which keeps them aligned. Most Democrats, on the other hand, feel free to turn their backs as soon as the votes are counted.

And as Election Day approaches, Obama writes of his awe at the size of the crowds coming to his rallies and worries about having aroused too much hope, knowing that he might not be able to meet the expectations that some of his followers were pressing on him.

But after his election as president, the grassroots disappears from Obama's story. The amnesia starts the night of his inauguration, when he attended ten formal balls with first lady Michelle Obama, but only the first one, where he was serenaded by Beyoncé, and later one for members of the armed forces, make it into his memoir. The Obama for America staff ball, which was attended by 10,000 staff and where Obama reportedly spoke for 17 minutes, is gone from his memory. White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, who managed the White House's relationships with Democratic advocacy organizations, gets barely a mention for his role in the health care reform fight. The organizers who took him to victory in the Iowa caucus, who he says he "would still do anything for," are nowhere in the rest of the book, even as one of them, Mitch Stewart, would come to run Organizing for America at the DNC. . . .

It's no wonder that once Obama entered the White House, he and his team obsessed about how much power the media had to shape the narrative of his presidency. He never understood that when enough people are successfully organized to move en masse, they can actually write history themselves. Instead, he thought he was the author of his story. And apparently, he still does.

Richard Silverstein: Conflating Judaism and Zionism: Bad for the Jews.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Welcome to the malarky factory. A scattershot of useful tidbits. For example, "a handful of giant corporations have spent $8 trillion in unproductive stock buybacks since 2009." I was recently reminded that stock buybacks were illegal before Reagan. It has since helped inflate the stock market, becoming one of the main ways wealth is transferred to the top 1%.

Paul Waldman: What a miserable 2020 revealed about America: "It exposed an impotent political system, a deadly mythology of rugged individualism, and a Republican Party without shame."

Alex Walker: Rush Limbaugh's deranged 2020: From denying the pandemic to supporting a coup. Has anyone ever been more consistently wrong?

Sunday, December 20, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

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

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

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


Trump's Election Fraud, Etc.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Shephard: Republicans will never accept the election results.

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

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

Biden Prospects

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Liz Theoharis: Making sense of mass abandonment amid abundance.

The Economy, Stupid

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


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

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

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

Paul Krugman:

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

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

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

Still More on Donald Trump

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Narea:

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

In and Around the Courts

Ian Millhiser:

Around the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Matters of Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

I've been paying more attention to EOY album lists, this week than to news. Started collecting this late Saturday evening, but got swamped Sunday with my work compiling Jazz Critics Poll ballots, and that pushed my schedule back a day. Even so, I prioritized collecting links for possible future interest, and refrained from commenting much on them. Perhaps I'll come back mid-week and add some notes, as there is much to talk about here.

The extra day means that the Electoral College has now done its duty and elected Joe Biden president (see: Electoral College vote officially affirms Biden's victory). Also: William Barr is out as Attorney General. And: US virus death toll crosses 300,000 as vaccinations begin (more figures further down, in the usual place).


Trump's Election Fraud and Other Election Matters

Jamelle Bouie: The 'Trump Won' farce isn't funny anymore: "Republicans are now seriously arguing that elections are legitimate only when their side wins."

Ronald Brownstein: The Republican Party's widening assault on American democracy.

Jessica Corbett: Four stabbed after Proud Boys, told by Trump to "stand back and stand by," descended on DC for march.

Garrett Epps: Disbar Ken Paxton -- and then some: Texas Attorney General, who filed the Trump fraudsters' "Hail Mary" lawsuit to overturn elections in states that try harder to practice democracy than Texas does.

Matt Ford: The rabid illiberalism of Trump's desperate election deniers.

Rosalind S Heiderman/Elise Viebeck: 'The last wall': How dozens of judges across the political spectrum rejected Trump's efforts to overturn the election.

Harold Meyerson: Will it really be all over on December 14? That's when the Electoral College votes.

Ella Nilsen: Everything that needs to go right for Democrats to win the Georgia runoffs, explained. More on Georgia:

Cameron Peters:

Jim Rutenberg/Nick Corasanti: 'An indelible stain': How the GOP tried to topple a pillar of democracy.

David Siders: Trump unleashes an army of sore losers.

Margaret Sullivan: Don't buy into Trump's disapproval of Fox News. The network is working hard on his election-denial fantasy.

Biden Prospects

See Building Biden's Cabinet for a survey of who's been selected for Biden's top administration positions, and who's being considered for still open slots.


Medea Benjamin/Nicholas JS Davies: Can Joe Biden's America figure out how to stop creating terrorists? Tempting to quote the whole article for its many examples where the insertion of US forces has only led to more resistance and terror (not least by the US itself). But I'll limit myself to the end:

We have real problems to deal with in this century -- existential problems that can only be solved by genuine international cooperation. We can no longer afford to sacrifice our future on the altar of the Global War on Terror, a New Cold War, Pax Americana or other imperialist fantasies.

Matt Ford: Biden is finding new and inexplicable ways to screw up his cabinet picks.

Fred Kaplan: Looks like Biden will be able to bring back the Iran deal after all.

Dylan Matthews:

Alex Pareene: Is Joe Biden just being stubborn? "A theory about his strangest nominees and appointments." Interesting example:

Take what happened to Marcia Fudge. The Ohio representative was openly lobbying to be made secretary of agriculture, in order to focus the department's attention on hunger and food security. She believed she had the relevant experience for the job and had even gone to the press with plans for what she wanted to do if selected: Her goal, as she explained in an interview last month, was to change the perception that the department only exists to help rural whites.

"As this country becomes more and more diverse, we're going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in," she told Politico. "You know, it's always 'we want to put the Black person in labor or HUD.'"

Then Joe Biden's team put Marcia Fudge in HUD and announced that former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack would be getting his old job back.

Daniel Politi:

Dylan Scott: What Joe Biden could do to bring down drug costs.

Emily Stewart: The debate over Joe Biden cancelling student debt, explained: "45 million Americans have student debt." More on student debt:

Alex Ward:

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 16.4 million+ cases (14 day change +30%, total up 1.6 million in last week), 300,051 deaths (+67%), 109,331 hospitalized (+19%). Dec. 9 was the first day where deaths topped 3,000, the round number above and beyond such infamous days as 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.


Jerusalem Demsas: Study: Allowing evictions during Covid-19 could have caused nearly 11,000 unnecessary deaths.

Laurie McGinley/Carolyn Y Johnson/Josh Dawsey: FDA authorizes the first coronavirus vaccine, a rare moment of hope in the deadly pandemic. Generic headline, but the link I followed to this article focused on the dirty hand of politics: White House orders FDA chief to authorize Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Friday or submit his resignation.

The White House actions once again inject politics into the vaccine race, potentially undermining public trust in one of the most crucial tools to end the pandemic that has killed more than 290,000 Americans. It comes in the midst of a process that had been designed to show no shortcuts were taken in reviewing the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine as surveys show many people remain unsure whether they will get the shots.

Given that bureaucrats have an innate tendency to drag their feet under the guise of caution, the political pressure might have been a good thing. Still, much can go wrong in a process driven primarily by profit-seeking and political advantage, where much of the relevant data is kept closed off as proprietary.

Whet Moser: The pandemic's final surge will be brutal.

Achal Prabhala/Arjun Jayadev/Dean Baker: Want vaccines fast? Suspend intellectual property rights.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg: Trump and friends got coronavirus care many others couldn't: "Rudolph W Giuliani became the latest in President Trump's inner circle to boast about the treatment he received for Covid-19, as hospitals across the country ration care."

Peter Wade: Rudy Giuliani brags about getting 'celebrity' virus treatment.

David Wallace-Wells: We had the vaccine the whole time.

F Perry Wilson: A doctor on 9 things that could go wrong with the new vaccines.

Sarah Zhang: The next six months will be vaccine purgatory: "The period after a vaccine is approved will be strange and confusing, as certain groups of people get vaccinated but others have to wait."

Still More on Donald Trump

Jonathan Chait: How Michael Anton's 'Flight 93 Election' essay defined the Trump era.

Sean Illing: A book critic read 150 Trump-era books. Here's what he learned. Interview with Carlos Lozada, author of What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era.

Nicole Narea:

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

William K Rashbaum/Ben Protess/David Enrich: Manhattan DA intensifies investigation of Trump.

Matt Stieb: Trump's last-minute execution spree has begun.

Tim Wu: What really saved the republic from Trump?

Jonathan Zimmerman: What Donald Trump can learn from Grover Cleveland. Premise here is that if Trump runs and wins in 2024, he'll join Cleveland as the only person to win two non-consecutive presidential terms. So how did Cleveland manage to win an election after losing one? Strikes me that the author is overly concerned with the duo's sex scandals, but there are other striking differences -- Cleveland actually won the popular vote in the election he lost -- as well as similarities (Cleveland was probably the most conservative president the US ever had, at least until Trump redefined what that meant).

In and Around the Courts

Jane Mayer: Dianne Feinstein's missteps raise a painful age question among Senate Democrats. Related:

  • Alex Shepherd: The Democrats are too old: "A grim report about Diane Feinstein's cognitive decline underlines a larger problem with the leadership of the party."

Ian Millhiser: The Supreme Court hands down a loss for rogue law enforcement officers -- and a win for the religious right.

Andrew Prokop: Joe Biden's Justice Department will inherit an investigation into Hunter Biden.

Mark Joseph Stern: The Supreme Court rejects opportunity to roll back marriage equality.

Around the World

Jen Kirby:

Jessica J Lee: How we an build on Trump's North Korea policy.

Trita Parsi: House Dems united to support the Iran nuclear deal.

Cameron Peters: Iran's execution of journalist Ruhollah Zam, briefly explained.

Mitchell Plitnick: Israel-Morocco agreement plants long term seeds of conflict.

Elizabeth Shackelford: Why Trump's Somalia gambit won't make anyone happy.

Other Matters of Interest

Tariq Ali: On John Lennon and Mick Jagger.

Bryce Covert: How monopolies have taken over our everyday lives: Review of David Dayen's book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power. By the way, some recent pieces by David Dayen:

Melissa Gira Grant: Nick Kristoff and the holy war on Pornhub: "When Kristof turns his notebook in the direction of women with stories of trauma, the resulting narratives most often fall somewhere between beneficent voyeurism and journalistic malpractice."

Daniel A Hanley: The FTC's strong case against Facebook. More on Facebook:

Sarah Jones: Why is Mitch McConnell so obsessed with liability shields?

Nick Martin: Wall Street vultures are ready to get rich from water scarcity.

Nathan J Robinson:

Luke Savage: How McKinsey, the world's most elite consulting firm, helped turbocharge America's opioid epidemic.

Peter Hammond Schwartz: Why the Democrats failed again: On the cosmological emptiness of liberalism: "Right-wingers have a theory of human nature and the universe. Without such a narrative, liberals will keep losing."

Alex Shepherd: Fox News is in trouble: "The network is facing real, sustained competition from the right for the first time in its history."

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: negative creep. His usual snark about Democrats (not without reason).

For a month now, the Democrats have ceded the airwaves to Trump and some of the most lunatic lawyers in America, while Biden rolls out recycled cabinet picks no one, except a few K Street lobbyists, asked for or wanted. Meanwhile, Pelosi and Schumer can't even get a tiny relief check to the 12 million people about to have their water and heat turned off or face eviction from their homes . . .

Still, lots more here, like a chart which shows that the top 1%'s share of income in India has risen from 6% in 1980 to 21%.

New York Times: This week in obituaries (a few names from a long list):

Sunday, December 6, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

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


Trump's Election Fraud

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Prokop:

Aaron Rupar:

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

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

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

Biden Prospects

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Krugman:

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

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

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

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

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

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

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

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

Carolyn Kormann: Countdown to a coronavirus vaccine.

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

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

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

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

Still More on Donald Trump

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

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

More on Durham:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Courts

Ian Millhiser:

Around the World

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ward:

Other Matters of Interest

Jariel Arvin:

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

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

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

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

Eric Levitz:

German Lopez:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:


I'm getting bored with this, just going through the motions, and Thanksgiving holiday no doubt depressed the news feed (Vox is way down, which may reflect turnover there), but started early enough there's still quite a lot here.

I'd like to dedicate this column to Lou Jean Fleron, who celebrated her 80th birthday today. Sixty-some years ago, she and her little brother Ken Brown attended a speech by Sam Rayburn (Speaker of the House, from Texas), and it inspired them both to study politics and become Democrats. Both wound up teaching political science. They've always been my heroes and role models, and no one has had more influence or provided more inspiration for my own considered political views than Lou Jean. I failed to write up the requested "story" for her Festschrift today, so the least I can do is dedicate this to her.

Trump's Election Fraud

As more votes have been counted, well, see Tim Dickinson: It actually was a landslide: 80 million votes and counting for Biden. Also note: "At 51 percent, Biden's share of the vote is the highest of any presidential challenger since FDR ousted Herbert Hoover in 1932." Trump got a lot of votes, too, but in the popular vote Biden is leading by over 6 million. The Electoral College margin appears to be 306-223. That it is that close attests to how the Electoral College bends the playing field in favor of the Republicans -- the party which has won four presidential terms while losing the popular vote, something the Democrats have never done. (The only other time a minority vote-getter became president was John Quincy Adams, in 1824, at a point when the Federalist Party had collapsed and the Whig Party not yet founded, so all major contenders were Democratic-Republicans. Andrew Jackson got the most votes, but no one got an Electoral College majority, so the House chose the president, in a deal brokered by Henry Clay.) Lots of people complain about the Electoral College, but with one party systematically benefitting from it -- and for that matter a party with nothing but contempt for democracy -- there's little chance of change. The only chance Democrats have is to win elections by even larger margins than Biden won this one.

Alexander Burns: Trump stress-tested the election system, and the cracks showed.

Gail Collins/Bret Stephens: Can this get any more pathetic? "The president and his enablers may look like fools, but they are causing real damage."

Aaron C Davis/Josh Dawsey/Emma Brown/Jon Swaine: For Trump advocate Sidney Powell, a playbook steeped in conspiracy theories.

Eliza Griswold: Trump's battle to undermine the vote in Pennsylvania.

Richard L Hasen: Trump's legal farce is having tragic results: "There is nothing funny about the Republican Party's multipronged attack on voting rights."

Rosalind S Heiderman: Wisconsin recount confirms Biden's win over Trump. Biden's lead actually increased by 87 votes.

Josh Marshall: The short, happy, bizarre defenestration of Sidney Powell.

Cameron Peters:

Daniel Politi: Biden sees lead increase in Milwaukee County after Trump pays for vote recount.

Philip Rucker/Ashley Parker/Josh Dawsey/Amy Gardner: 20 days of fantasy and failure: Inside Trump's quest to overturn the election.

Robert Shapiro: No, it wasn't a coup attempt. It was another Trump money scam.

Other Election Matters

Trip Gabriel: How Democrats suffered crushing down-ballot losses across America.

Will Wilkinson: Why did so many Americans vote for Trump? "To the dismay of Democrats, the president's strategy of ignoring the pandemic mostly worked for Republicans." I think that much is true. Trump's own illness story, his treatment and recovery, breathed substance into his message that we shouldn't let fear of the virus dominate our lives. Many people admired his defiance, even if they recognized he wasn't very smart or conscientious. Still, that only helped so much.

How could a president responsible for one of the gravest failures of governance in American history nevertheless maintain such rock-solid support? Democracy's throw-the-bums-out feedback mechanism gets gummed up when the electorate disagrees about the identity of the bums, what did and didn't occur on their watch and who deserves what share of the credit or blame.

When party affiliation becomes a central source of meaning and self-definition, reality itself becomes contested and verifiable facts turn into hot-button controversies. Elections can't render an authoritative verdict on the performance of incumbents when partisans in a closely divided electorate tell wildly inconsistent stories about one another and the world they share.

Mr. Trump has a knack for leveraging the animosities of polarized partisanship to cleave his supporters from sources of credible information and inflame them with vilifying lies. This time, it wasn't enough to save his bacon, which suggests that polarization hasn't completely wrecked our democracy's capacity for self-correction: Sweeping a medium-size city's worth of dead Americans under the rug turned out to be too tall an order.

Biden Prospects

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

Doug Bandow: Team Trump determined to drop foreign policy bombs in the way out: "Everything the outgoing administration is doing today seems coordinated to obstruct the Biden team tomorrow."

Christopher Campbell: The Biden popular front is doomed to unravel. Title makes sense but I'd argue that both left and right wings of the Democratic Party need each other more than they need to fear or dominate the other, that neither can afford to lose the other, especially given that Republicans even without Trump remain a unifying threat. But this article has little to do with its title. Much of it is a strange rationalization of Trump's unexpected success. And it ends with an observation that the dividing line between the parties isn't capital vs. labor (as it was during the New Deal/Great Society era) but growing vs. declining states/regions.

Megan Cassella/Ben White/Tyler Pager: Biden unveils diverse economic team as challenges to economy grow: "The president-elect intends to name Cecilia Rouse, Neera Tanden and Wally Adeyemo to senior roles in his administration." Article assumes Janet Yellen is pick for Treasury Secretary. Most of the commentary I've seen concerns Tanden, who runs the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, but is infamous as a critic of Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Tanden was picked to run the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Sanders is on the Senate Budget Committee.

Nancy Cook: Trump's 2016 transition defined his presidency. Biden's might, too. "The hallmarks were all there during Trump's transition -- off-the-cuff decision-making, high staff turnover and bitter internal battles. So far, Biden's transition has publicly been the opposite."

EJ Dionne Jr: Why they fight: "The Democrats are a big-tent party. The GOP isn't. That explains everything." Glancing through the comments, I see that Dionne's view -- basically a variant on the old Will Rogers joke (quote included) -- is limited by being inside the tent. One could imagine (and maybe even relish) the "democratic wing" purging the Party's more conservative elements, like the Republican right-wing did to "purify" their party. Indeed, that's likely to happen, although I doubt the left will ever be as successful as the right has been. But for now, the big difference isn't the diversity of opinion within the Democratic Party, but the fact that Democrats still imagine themselves as representing and supporting the entire country -- even regions, components, and classes that provide them little support -- whereas Republicans focus narrowly on their supporters, even if only to reinforce prejudices.

Jen Kirby: Joe Biden's foreign policy vision takes shape as he selects his team. Nominees to date:

  • Antony Blinken: Secretary of State (grade card)
  • Alejandro Mayorkas: Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Avril Haines: National Intelligence Director
  • Jake Sullivan: National Security Adviser
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield: UN Ambassador
  • John Kerry: Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

More on these people:

Jackson Lears: Don't wish for a restoration: One common reaction of Democrats to Trump has been a wave of nostalgia for Obama, and that's been a driving force behind Biden's campaign. As Biden stocks his administration, it is inevitable that he will draw heavily on Obama veterans. However, I'm more inclined to view Obama's years as opportunity wasted -- not just through inaction but through futile attempts to appeal to elite but conventional interests:

The great danger is that much of the Biden administration will likely be composed of Washington insiders who are devoted to the failed policies of the past -- austerity at home, overextended military commitments abroad. To cling to those policies would be to pretend that the populist challenge to the Washington consensus in 2016 never happened.

This is part of a New York Review series of short articles on the 2020 elections. Also see:

  • Ben Fountain: What has minimalist democracy gotten us?

  • Wallace Shawn: Developments since my birth. That would be 1943. I've thought a good deal about my own birth date (in 1950, a week before a Chinese volunteer army reversed American gains in Korea) as a pivotal date in the decline of the nation.

    Barack Obama seemed to love the old rhetoric, and he may have been despised by Trump and his followers not simply because he was the first person of color to become president, and not simply because of the elegance of his speeches and the refinement and sense of self-respect evident in his demeanor, but because the words he used somehow harked back to the ethical aspirations expressed by President Kennedy (never mind that neither he nor President Kennedy lived up to them).

    Over the decades of my life, America's morale has declined, I'd say. There was a dignity to feeling kind and good. It was enjoyable. On the other hand, the lack of connection between what we felt we were and what we actually were was dangerous and led to the death of a lot of people. . . . But for those countless others, in the cities and towns of the USA and in countries far away, to whom America has not been good, the face of America has always and forever been the face of Donald Trump.

Ralph Nader: Biden needs to report Trump's wreckage in Executive Branch as markers.

When the Bidenites take over on January 21, they will find hollowed-out government law enforcement and shelved research projects. They'll see offices empty after government scientists and other civil servants were forced out. Other public servants will be sitting in what the Japanese call "window jobs," ordered to stop working on vital matters ranging from limiting climate disruption to stopping Wall Street rip-offs. The Trump administration turned important government jobs into do-nothing positions.

Heavily censored federal CDC workers, benumbed from prohibitions on what they can say, and who were ordered not to speak the words "climate change" will receive their rescuers with deep relief. EPA workers who were ordered to repeal or weaken over 100 environmental safeguards -- unleashing deadly toxins into people's air and water -- will feel the breaking of the restraints imposed on sound science.

Specialists who were told to weaken or eliminate about 50 occupational health and safety standards and literally shut down enforcement at OSHA will also start to see the early dawn.

Biden's team will discover destruction or theft of public records, spectacles of looting and plunder of public trust and public property.

They will hear stories of corporate lobbyists coming in and out of the agencies as if they owned the government because they did. Trump turned over the federal government to Big Business, as has never before happened, brazenly, openly, and endlessly. His nominee to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) into nothingness, marauding Mick Mulvaney, openly said the agency's mission was to protect Wall Street Big Banks and unscrupulous payday lenders!! Mulvaney abandoned tens of millions of defrauded Americans. . . .

Unlike the entering Obama Administration back in 2009, the Biden Administration must come in with a determined mindset as they begin restoring the rule of law and reversing Trump's cruel and crazy policies. Biden's team will also need to start restoring past services and initiating new services for the citizenry.

They must not let the Trumpster outlaws escape and become immune fugitives from justice. If Trump's wrecking crew escapes the arm of the law, for sure they and their base will return with a vengeance in two and four years.

Osita Nwanevu: The Democrats' maddening cowardice is carrying over into the Biden era.

Richard Silverstein: Biden's Middle East policy will face an unholy right-wing alliance.

Jamie Stiehm: Why Biden has it harder than FDR and Lincoln: For starters, he doesn't have their Congressional majorities, and most likely won't have any sort of majority in the Senate. But even though Obama had a majority in Congress in 2009, he had a great deal of trouble getting his relatively modest legislative proposals passed.

Astra Taylor: How the Biden administration can free Americans from student debt.

Laura Weiss: The government's human cruelty will outlive Trump: "Immigration agencies won't suddenly clean up their act when the president leaves office. What's Biden going to do about their systemic abuses?"

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 13.3 million+ cases (14 day change +12%), 266,357 deaths (+29%), 91,635 hospitalized (+38%). The change rates have lowered a bit, but still 1 million cases in the last week (151,247 on Nov. 28). At the current rate, we'll hit 18 million cases and 300,000 deaths by January 1. Note that constant rate is not the worst possible scenario (see Higgins below).

Bryce Covert: New York's feckless, scientifically illiterate response to the Covid second wave.

Marissa Higgins: Amid holiday season, Dr Anthony Fauci gets brutally honest about possible coronavirus spike.

Umair Irfan: Covid-19 vaccine efficacy results are not enough: "What the latest Covid-19 vaccine announcements from AstraZeneca-Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna can and can't tell us."

Melody Schreiber: Pharma executives are profiting from Covid vaccine press releases: "The timing of the announcements, and their lack of detail, are raising worries about insider trading and unrealistic expectations."

Still More on Donald Trump

Isaac Arnsdorf: Trump races to weaken environmental and worker protections before January 20th.

Dan Barry: 'Loser': How a lifelong fear bookended Trump's presidency: "The president's inability to concede the election is the latest reality-denying moment in a career preoccupied with an epithet."

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: Trump pardons former national security adviser Flynn. The first, and in some ways, the safest of Trump's post-election pardons. Even so, Trump made Flynn wait in line behind the Thanksgiving turkey. More on Flynn:

Zak Cheney-Rice: Losing hasn't changed Trump's stance on white supremacy: "His continued resistance to renaming military bases that honor Confederates -- though it has no obvious political benefit -- confirms his true beliefs." Doesn't strike me as a very good example. In fact, I don't think Trump qualifies as a white supremacist -- unlike some of his followers, and many of their forebears -- although he often has racist impulses, and consistently rejects all efforts to acknowledge much less correct past racism. I'd also argue that his position does have political benefit, at least within his base, which is all he really care about. A lot of Trump supporters are in denial about racism, both past and present, and one reason Trump is important to them is that he saves them from having to examine their own beliefs and acts. On the other hand, it's very likely that all of those bases will be renamed under Biden, and the issue will die there.

Lee Fang: Another official dismissed at the Pentagon as Trump continues unusual shake-up.

Lisa Friedman: EPA's final deregulatory rush runs into open staff resistance.

Charlotte Klein: Here's what a lame-duck Trump might do: List from subheds follows. The ones to worry about are the irreversible acts, especially military strikes.

  • Pardon his cronies and the connected
  • Attack Iran's main nuclear site
  • Bring back firing squads
  • Make it easier to pollute
  • Preserve Confederate monuments
  • Make it even harder to claim asylum

Philip Allen Lacovara: Yes, the Biden administration should hold Trump accountable. Author is "a former president of the DC Bar, served as counsel to the Watergate special prosecutor." More thoughts on prosecuting Trump:

  • Andrew Weissmann: Should Trump be prosecuted? "Being president should mean you are more accountable, not less, to the rule of law." Weissman "was a senior prosecutor in the Mueller investigation."

Martin Longman: How Trump killed political blogging.

Jonathan Martin/Maggie Haberman: How Trump hopes to use party machinery to retain control of the GOP.

Eric L Muller: The one word that bars Trump from pardoning himself: "The question shouldn't be whether the president can pardon himself but whether he can grant himself a pardon -- and those are not the same thing."

Olivia Nuzzi: The final gasp of Donald Trump's presidency.

Madison Pauly: Will Trump's accusers finally get their day in court?

Walter M Shaub Jr: The presidential transition meets Murphy's Law: In this case, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, the very literal embodiment of Murphyism. Since this article, Trump allowed Murphy to release transition funds. But she still stands as a prime example of how Trump's intransigence is reflected among his loyal minions.

Asawin Suebsaeng: Trump's already gaming out a 2024 run -- including an event during Biden's inauguration.

Jeff Wise: The people v Donald J Trump: "The criminal case against him is already in the works -- and it could go to trial sooner than you think." Opens with the example of Silvio Berlusconi, who went from billionaire media magnate to prime minister of Italy to jail. I wrote about the Berlusconi precedent four years ago (which built on something I wrote in 2006, Mobsters in Suits), so it seems fitting that other people are writing about it now.

Obama Has a Book to Sell

Barack Obama's memoir, A Promised Land, came out last week, as did most of the press coverage.

Murtaza Hussain: Obama book explains how birtherism made Trump's presidency.

Fred Kaplan: Obama had a remarkable grasp of complexity and ambiguity. Is that good for a president?

Around the World

Ramzy Baroud: Expansion and mass eviction: Israel 'takes advantage' of Trump's remaining days in office.

Dave DeCamp: Israel suspected in assassination of top Iranian scientist: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, "head of an Iranian military nuclear program." More:

Jason Ditz: Israeli airstrike kills 19 in eastern Syria, mostly Pakistani militia members:

Continuing a tactic of anticipating a US-Iran War, Israel seems to keep trying to provoke the conflict, with a Thursday morning strike in eastern Syria killing at least 19 Shi'ite militia members, declared "pro-Iranian fighters" by the Israeli press. . . .

This is the third Israeli attack against Shi'ites in Syria in just over a week. Iran did comment on the first one, which killed mostly Iraqi and Lebanese Shi'ites, and threatened retaliation over it. They did not specify when or how they would retaliate.

Roger Harris: US intervenes as Venezuela prepares for high stakes election.

Jacob Silverman: Mike Pompeo is a global arsonist. Can Biden put out his fires?

Other Matters of Interest

Joel Achenbach: Did the news media, led by Walter Cronkite, lose the war in Vietnam? Why is this even coming up now? As someone who lived through the era, and who regularly watched TV coverage in real time, I can assure you that the news media was fully behind the war effort until the hypocrisy and false claims became undeniable. Even so, they never quite grasped the real lessons of the war, which is why any suggestion that the war was ever winnable is so risible. The "revisionist" argument that the US could have prevailed had it not been for the American people's loss of willpower is nothing more than the "stab-in-the-back" claim that aided the rise of the Nazis in Germany, its "success" leading to yet another, even more disastrous war. Look at the people pushing it in the 1990s, and you'll find the same people who led us into Afghanistan and Iraq, who used martial myth to rally support for the Bush and Trump regimes, and the interminable waves of right-wing zealots in Congress and the Courts.

David Atkins: Not everything can move to Substack or the Times. Evidently, two (of three) co-founders of Vox have left: Ezra Klein to the New York Times, and Matthew Yglesias to do his own thing at Substack. Others trying their hand at Substack subscriber newsletters include Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, and Matt Taibbi. (Article doesn't mention Taibbi, but does name Casey Newton, who used to cover Silicon Valley for The Verge.) I figure Sullivan-Greenwald-Taibbi to be temporary holding patterns: all three have grown apart from their hosts, but I doubt any of them are viable as isolated oracles. I'm more troubled by the Vox founders, not least because Vox has been my most reliable news filter over the past four years. Perhaps its business model has failed, and the founders have jumped ship based on inside information. But to my mind, leaving your own company to work for the behemoth New York Times or to freelance (which, again, may just be a stall) seems like a bad move.

Paul Demko: How one of the reddest states became the nation's hottest weed market: I suspected as much last time I visited Tulsa, where I saw billboards touting access to "medical marijuana," and my right-wing relatives (not to my knowledge actual users) bragging about how easy it is to get.

Christopher Bonanos: David Dinkins deserved better: "His mayoralty was not the overt failure that it once seemed." The former New York City mayor died last week, at 93. Dinkins was mayor from 1989 to 1993, following Ed Koch, and followed by Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.

Jonathan Chait: 'Republicans remain opposed to any policies that would reduce fossil-fuel use'. That seems like a far more explicit declaration than even the oil, gas, and coal companies are used to pushing. Until recently, they've been satisfied just throwing shade on climate change concerns, but more and more they're losing out to renewables on purely economic terms -- never mind the fact that what makes fossil fuel sources affordable is how the industry has escaped having to pay for its externalities.

Charles Duhigg: How venture capitalists are deforming capitalism.

Todd C Frankel/Brittney Martin/Andrew Van Dam/Alyssa Fowers: A growing number of Americans are going hungry: "26 million now say they don't have enough to eat, as the pandemic worsens and holidays near."

Amanda Frost: The Supreme Court has to choose between Trump and the nation's founders: "Are the court's conservatives the devout originalists they claim to be or partisan hacks? A key immigration case will provide the proof."

Michael M Grynbaum/John Koblin: Newsmax, once a right-wing also-ran, is rising, and Trump approves. More on Newsmax:

  • Alex Shephard: How Newsmax became Trump TV: "Chris Tuddy's conservative cable news network is gaining viewers by telling them Trump can still win."

Rebecca Heilweil: Parler, the "free speech" Twitter wannabe, explained.

Sean Illing: A historian on the perils of chaotic White House transitions: Interview with Eric Rauchway, author of Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal. I mentiond this piece in Music Week, but figured it bear repeating, and belongs here. The transition from Hoover to Roosevelt in 1932-33 is relevant inasmuch as it started with an incumbent president being thrown out in favor of a new party, in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis -- less of an economic crisis now, but the pandemic more than makes up the difference. It was worse then because the transition period was two months longer, but less bad then because Hoover didn't have many of the powers that presidents have today (e.g., the ability to launch nuclear weapons at supposed enemies). It was similar in that Hoover, like Trump today, refused to recognize the election results as a popular verdict on his administration, and continued to pursue his dangerous policies until the very end.

Ian Millhiser: The Supreme Court fight over Trump's last-ditch effort to rig the census, explained: "The Court must decide whether to follow the Constitution's clear test -- or to rubber-stamp an illegal effort by Trump."

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Dumb all over, again.

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins: The liberal establishment is 'a stranger to self-examination': "A conversation with Pankaj Mishra about Biden's closer-than-expected victory, the sterile state of mainstream intellectual culture, and his new book Bland Fanatics."

Sunday, November 22, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Blog link.

Table of contents:

Trump still refuses to concede. I thought he was a national embarrassment before the election, but hadn't even anticipated this. My apologies to all the pundits I made fun of for expecting, and even "war gaming," his intransigence. Jimmy Kimmel has started calling his lame duck period Squattergate.


Trump's Election Fraud

No serious observer thinks Trump has a chance of stealing back the election at this point, but as best I can figure, continuing to press his case does three things Trump's likely to regard as positives: it keeps his name at the top of the news, thereby keeping Biden and the Democrats from building on their win; it shows his base he's willing to fight for them (well, himself), even when the cause seems lost; and it lays the foundation for a scorched earth resistance against Biden and everything the Democrat-Socialists want to do. The downside, of course, is that it makes him look like a jerk and an asshole who has no concern for any part of the country beyond his following, but let's face it: you already knew that. I know a lot of people who thought they couldn't possibly despise him more than they did on November 3, but most of them now admit they were wrong: he's even more loathsome than they imagined.

David Atkins: Trump is staging a comically incompetent coup.

Dana Bash/Gloria Borger: Trump told ally he's trying to get back at Democrats for questioning legitimacy of his own election. "The President, this source said, 'doesn't see' how bad the aftermath of all of this could be for the country, and for democracy itself. As usual, he's focused on himself."

John Cassidy: Rudy Giuliani is a hot mess.

Christina Cauterucci: Shame the random, unknown government officials aiding Trump's coup attempt.

Jonathan Chait:

Kyle Cheney: Trump campaign cuts Sidney Powell from president's legal team. Just when she was upstaging Rudy Giuliani as the biggest laughing stock on retainer. Another take: Walter Einenkel: Trump campaign now says lady who lied with Giuliani for 2 hours at presser not really on legal team.

Chas Danner: Federal judge rebukes Trump's effort to overturn Pennsylvania election results: "In a scathing ruling, the judge said the Trump campaign was trying to 'disenfranchise almost 7 million voters.'" Also on this: Ian Millhiser: A Republican judge just tore into Trump's election lawyers for their incompetence.

Timothy Egan: Donald Trump is leaving behind blueprints to end democracy.

Garrett Epps: In election litigation, an ominous sign.

Edward B Foley: If the losing party won't accept defeat, democracy is dead. This has become a common thread for pundits, especially at the Washington Post:

Matt Ford: The unpardonable sins of Lindsey Graham. Also on Graham:

Masha Gessen: The coup stage of Donald Trump's presidency. Right after the election, I ridiculed efforts to describe Trump's refusal to accept plain results a coup, but he's persisted so steadfastly that there's little doubt that a coup is precisely what he would like to see. What escapes him is how one might work, but as long as he refuses to concede the fort, he has hopes that some kind of force might still come to his rescue. Gessen, on the other hand, has seen plenty of coups (successful and otherwise).

In the coup stage of his Presidency, Trump has continued to be Trump: he has shown no ability to plan or plot, but plenty of resolve and willingness to act. He fired military brass and the chief of election cybersecurity, Chris Krebs, for daring to contradict him. He garnered more than seventy million votes. He has showcased considerable power, in other words, but so far it doesn't seem to be enough to persuade Americans that he will keep it. For now, Trump's coup attempt seems doomed.

But, as is his way, Trump is succeeding even as he fails. His project all along has been to destroy the political order as we have known it. An overwhelming majority of Republican elected officials are hedging their bets on the coup attempt -- whether in order to humor Trump or appease his base, they have neglected to recognize the results of the election. The Tuesday-night incident at the Wayne County election board showed that at least some election officials will do Trump's bidding.

Alex Isenstadt: Trump threatens to wreak havoc on GOP from beyond the White House. Hey, bring it on!

Ed Kilgore: Rudy melts down over Trump and 'voter fraud' during insane press conference.

Jen Kirby: A Trump official is still blocking Biden's presidential transition. House Democrats want answers. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy.

Robert Mackey: Defeated Trump campaign tells supporters "The Left HATES YOU" in fundraising emails: The left hates Trump, not Trump supporters. Feels sorry for their mental anguish, and sometimes fears how irrationally they may act out. But the left's programs would actually help most Trump supporters. Just maybe not Trump.

Ian Millhiser: Trump's lawsuits challenging the election have turned into a clown show: "Republican officials aren't just losing. They're embarrassing themselves." Pictured: Rudy Giuliani.

Andrew Prokop: How long can Trump keep disputing the election results?

David E Sanger: Trump's attempts to overturn the election are unparalleled in US history.

Anya van Wagtendonk: Trump lashes out at fellow Republicans as his legal challenges to election results fail.

Li Zhou: 73 percent of Republican voters are questioning Biden's victory: Per a Vox poll.

Other Election Matters

Ross Barkan: The Biden campaign's decision not to knock on doors was a huge mistake.

Gabriel Debenedetti: Election night with Biden's data guru.

Fintan O'Toole: Democracy's afterlife: "Trump, the GOP, and the rise of zombie politics."

It is impossible not to think, in this in-between moment, of Antonio Gramsci: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear." Something is dying, but we do not yet know what. Is it the basic idea of majority rule or is it the most coherent attempt to destroy that idea since the secession of the Confederacy? Something is trying to be born, but we cannot yet say what it is either. Is it an American version of the "managed democracy" or "electoral autocracy" that is the most rapidly expanding political form around the world? Or is it a radically renewed republic that can finally deal with the unfinished business of its history? The old is in a state of suspended animation; the new stands at a threshold it cannot yet cross.

I would have gone elsewhere with the Gramsci quote. Most Democrats seem to be suffering from PTSD. They've been so traumatized by Trump that they've lost faith in their own basic principles, so they hardly campaign on them. Moreover, they regard Trump as such an anomaly that they fail to recognize that he's part and parcel of the Republican Party. They fret over the Republican base falling for Trump's folly, when it would be more accurate to point out that Trump is the one who fell for the crazed, vicious worldview. On the other hand, there are Democrats who see this clearly, yet they were unable to prevail in the primaries -- mostly due to the tsunami of Bloomberg cash, and the panic of pandemic. I still have faith in the left's clarity and reason, but O'Toole is haunted by darker thoughts:

The historic question that must be addressed is: Who is the aberration? Biden and perhaps most of his voters believe that the answer could not be more obvious. It is Trump. But this has been shown to be the wrong answer. The dominant power in the land, the undead Republican Party, has made majority rule aberrant, a notion that transgresses the new norms it has created. From the perspective of this system, it is Biden, and his criminal voters, who are the deviant ones. This is the irony: Trump, the purest of political opportunists, driven only by his own instincts and interests, has entrenched an anti-democratic culture that, unless it is uprooted, will thrive in the long term. It is there in his court appointments, in his creation of a solid minority of at least 45 percent animated by resentment and revenge, but above all in his unabashed demonstration of the relatively unbounded possibilities of an American autocracy.

Andrew Prokop: Georgia's Republican secretary of state just certified Biden's victory.

Michael Tomasky: What did the Democrats win?

Li Zhou: Why Republican women candidates had such a strong year. As I recall, in 2018, when Democrats elected a lot of new women to Congress, the number of Republican women in the House remained constant. This year it's jumping from 22 to 36, while the count of Democratic women is little changed, at 105. How exactly does that justify this headline?

Biden Prospects

I've been avoiding speculation on Biden cabinet picks, figuring what will be will be, but just noticed this one: Biden chooses Antony Blinken, defender of global alliances, as Secretary of State. You may recall mention of Blinken last week. Robert Wright has been writing a series on Grading Biden's foreign policy team, and I linked to his assessment of Blinken, with its overall grade of C- (teacher's comment: "Tony is bright and studious but needs to do a better job of learning from past mistakes"). Wright followed up with a report card on William Burns, who fared considerably better at A- (B grades for military restraint and international law).

Kate Aronoff:

  • Joe Biden can't compromise with the rising seas.

  • Democrats' fear of the Green New Deal is tearing the Party apart: "Why are party leaders so scared of a policy that's demonstrably popular?" I have a slightly different question. Given that GND doesn't have any intrinsic definition (unlike, say, single-payer health insurance), what is keeping Democratic Party leaders from just picking out a few things they like and calling it their GND? Most likely it's that Republicans have had some success at condeming GND as an extreme radical-liberal project, and mainstream Democrats are used to running scared from Republican attacks. It's worth stepping back and thinking about this a bit. There are two directives to GND: one is to accelerate public infrastructure development, specifically to provide plentiful energy while reducing carbon emissions, thereby reducing climate change without crippling the economy. The second is to make sure that the jobs created come with livable wages and benefits. Why should any Democrats oppose either of those programs? One might argue about how much to spend how soon, and how to pay for it -- which shouldn't be the big deal opponents try to make it out to be. But those are just basic principles, especially for someone like Joe Biden, who's talked a lot about climate change and better wages. If you do those basic things, what does it matter what you call it?

Peter Beinart: The Biden problem. Specifically, about foreign policy: Biden has moved significantly left on domestic policy, but if anything mainstream Democrats (especially those calling themselves "security Democrats" during the impeachment process) have retrenched even deeper into American exceptionalist orthodoxy.

Thomas Geoghegan: An FDR-size executive order for Biden: "With one stroke, the new president could revive the labor movement and help repair the post-pandemic economy."

Even with a hostile Senate, there is at least one executive order that could do more to transform the country than single-payer health care or the Green New Deal -- indeed, an order that could help pave the way toward those goals. Biden could require as a condition in every federal contract that every supplier of a good or service have a collective bargaining agreement -- unless there is no such supplier that can perform that contract at a reasonable cost or comparable quality. Such an executive order would do more to revive the labor movement than many a federal law -- and it wouldn't require Mitch McConnell's permission.

Dylan Matthews: 10 enormously consequential things Biden can do without the Senate. From the unnumbered subheds (although there are major caveats in the small print, and even so I'm not sure Biden is on board for many of them):

  1. Fight climate change
  2. Forgive student debt
  3. Expand immigration
  4. Ease the ban on marijuana
  5. Reverse Trump's rollback of air pollution and lead poisoning rules
  6. Cut back on factory farming
  7. Create a postal banking system
  8. Crack down on Wall Street
  9. Crack down on monopolies
  10. Expand access to health care

Luke Savage: Joe Biden should take a hard look at what Obama did in 2009 -- and do exactly the opposite. By the way, a pretty good book on Obama's transition and initial choices is Reed Hundt: A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions, especially given that Biden is inheriting the worst recession America has faced since the one Obama inherited (in some ways it's arguably worse, in which case you might want to supplement your reading with Adam Cohen: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Innter Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America). One of the biggest mistakes Obama made was to put off proposing any big infrastructure projects because they weren't "shovel ready" and he thought only short-term stimulus (like tax breaks and cash) would be necessary. (Feel free to blame Larry Summers for that decision. Also note how tightly Summers and Timothy Geithner limited Obama's choice in economic advisers.)

Dylan Scott: What Biden could do to expand health coverage -- without Congress. But: "Undoing Trump's health care actions won't be as easy as it sounds." Some problems are bureaucratic, but most were built into the program, even before Trump and the Republicans started beating on it.

Rob Urie: Democrats and the canard of 'too far left'.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 12.3 million+ cases (14 day change +59%), 256,581 deaths (+62%), 83,227 hospitalized (+50%). The mapmaker had to shift the scale to restore some gradation to what had become a vast red blob.

Lavender Ali: How China crushed coronavirus.

Eleanor Cummins: Why we can't comprehend 250,000 Covid deaths. Statistics, sure, but don't underestimate the truth Upton Sinclair discovered: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

James Hamblin: How Trump sold failure to 70 million people: "The president convinced many voters that his response to the pandemic was not a disaster. The psychology of medical fraud is simple, timeless, and tragic."

Elliot Hannon: Tyson Foods supervisors allegedly bet on how many plant workers would get coronavirus.

Umair Irfan: Pfizer and BioNTech have applied for emergency approval for their Covid-19 vaccine.

German Lopez: The next Covid-19 superspreading event: Thanksgiving.

Alexis Madrigal/Whet Moser: How many Americans are about to die? "A new analysis shows that the country is on track to pass spring's grimmest record."

Nick Martin: Scott Atlas, star disciple in Trump's Covid death cult: "The task force adviser is there to incite the president's base and facilitate the slow, deadly violence of our failed federal response to the pandemic."

Anna North: Why restaurants are open and schools are closed.

Amy Qin/Vivian Wang/Danny Hakim: How Steve Bannon and a Chinese billionaire created a right-wing coronavirus media sensation: "Increasingly allied, the American far right and members of the Chinese diaspora tapped into social media to give a Hong Kong researcher a vast audience for peddling unsubstantiated pandemic claims."

Katie Shepherd: Trump coronavirus adviser tells Michigan to 'rise up' against new shutdown orders.

John Wagner/Colby Itkowitz/Michelle Ye Hee Lee: Donald Trump Jr, the president's eldest son, has tested positive for the coronavirus. Also might as well note: Kate Riga: Rick Scott becomes the 6th member of Congress to test positive this week. Also: Sean Collins: Sen. Kelly Loeffler has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ed Yong: Hospitals know what's coming: "'We are on an absolutely catastrophic path,' said a COVID-19 doctor at America's best-prepared hospital."

Still More on Donald Trump

Chas Danner: Lara Trump is considering Senate run in North Carolina: In 2022, for retiring Senator Richard Burr's seat.

Juliet Eilperin: Trump officials rush to auction off rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before Biden can block it.

Randall D Eliason: The case against indicting Trump. Author recently wrote Yes, going after Trump's law firms is fair game, so he's drawing some fine distinctions.

Paulina Firozi: Trump administration exits Open Skies treaty. This was announced six months ago, but it's still shocking to see it happening, especially with Trump heading out the door.

Danny Hakim/Mike McIntire/William K Reshbaum/Ben Protess: Trump tax write-offs are ensnared in 2 New York fraud investigations.

David M Halbfinger: For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump's gifts kept on coming: "Allowing the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard the ability to emigrate to Israel was just the latest in a long list of prizes for America's closest ally in the Middle East." I always gag when I see "ally" in this context. Allies are concerned with your welfare. Allies come to your aid. Israel does whatever it wants, and expects Americans to clean up the mess, and pay them billions every year for the trouble. The twenty-year debacle of the Global War on Error isn't all Israel's fault, but it would never have happened without Israel: first, by generating so much bad will, but also by providing the inspiration for the neocon approach, which is to always project power, and suffer the consequences of perpetual war. As for Pollard, good riddance. But the list doesn't end there, and in every other respect we've been ill-served by the Trump administration's slavish prostration to Israeli ego and arrogance. Also on Pollard:

Sean Illing: How TV paved America's road to Trump: Interview with TV critic James Poniewozik, author of what I regard as the single most useful book on Trump, Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America.

Jill Lepore: Will Trump burn the evidence?: "How the President could endanger the official records of one of the most consequential periods in American history."

Steve M.:

  • This is asymmetric warfare, and the GOP has the advantage:

    One of the main reasons we're in this mess is that Republicans have spent years preparing their voters for a moment like this -- and Democrats haven't.

    As I often say, the right-wing media and Republican officials tell GOP base voters every day, whether or not we're in election season, that Democrats are evil, deceitful people who are responsible for all the ills of the world, occasionally in partnership with alleged allies such as antifa or the jihadist movement. Republicans voters have heard this for so many years that they don't need to be persuaded that Joe Biden -- who seems like a decent, human person to us -- is either the mastermind or the unwitting dupe of a fiendish plot cooked up by all-powerful supervillains to steal an election. Of course Biden and his henchmen could fake a couple hundred thousand votes in six states! Of course they could conceal the evidence so deftly that President Trump's lawyers and investigators can't uncover it! The absence of evidence isn't proof that the election was honest and fair -- it couldn't possibly be! Democrats are too evil! No dyed-in-the-wool Republican voter needs evidence to be persuaded that something terribe happened. Our malign nature is an article of faith! Proof isn't necessary. . . .

    And the mainstream media seems incapable of imagining the possibility that the Republican Party might be dangerous and malignant. Surely it's just Donald Trump! Or Trump plus Republicans temporarily in thrall to him! Surely the party's four years of coddling Trump aren't a sign that there's something inherently wrong with the party, any more than the GOP's extreme positions on climate change and gun ownership and abortion and the regulation and taxation of rich people and corporations are signs that the party can't be trusted! Despite all that, the GOP is seen not only as a respectable center-right party but as the party of normal Americans, while the Democratic Party is the party of non-whites and effete white freaks and weirdos.

  • Who's really addicted to Trump? Republicans and journalists. Starts with a link to a Frank Bruni column, anticipating the pains of withdrawal from our daily Donald Trump fix. SM sagely comments:

    Get a grip, Frank. It's fine to keep writing about Trump, at least for now. Trump is still with us. He destroys democracy a little more every day. People who study fascism express serious concern about his ongoing efforts to overturn the results of the election.

    But if we can ever be rid of him, we'll be fine. Trust me, I know. Years ago I obtained a copy of The Book on Bush: How George W. Bush (Mis)leads America by Eric Alterman and Mark Green, as well as The Man Who Would Not Shut Up, a biography of Bill O'Reilly by Marvin Kitman. There was a time I thought I'd read these books. But Bush and O'Reilly passed from the scene and I just . . . didn't. I gave the books away. If I think about Bush or O'Reilly now, I remember how much I despised them and how angry I was at the damage they'd done to America. But I rarely think about them. I'm much more concerned with the people who are actively doing harm today.

    That's how I'll be once Donald Trump is no longer a figure of influence in America. I'll be fine. The rest of his critics will all be fine.

Jonathan Mahler: Can America restore the rule of law without prosecuting Trump? Long article, covers a lot of possible grounds for prosecution. "No ex-president has ever been indicted before, but no president has ever left office with so much potential criminal liability."

Ben Mathis-Lilley: White nationalist appointed by Trump to Holocaust Commission praised Jeffrey Epstein for not being "a pussy" -- isn't this the ultimate Trump headline?

Philip Rucker/Ashley Parker/Josh Dawsey: Trump privately plots his next act -- including a potential 2024 run: Well, he filed the paperwork to campaign in 2020 the day after inauguration in 2017, so he understands how campaign finance works as a racket, and is not coy about getting in early. In the UK, the opposition party has what they call a "shadow cabinet": an MP designated to respond politically to each cabinet minister. Trump could proclaim himself Shadow President, and demand air time to respond to every Biden appearance. He might find that more fun than he ever had actually being president. On the other hand, he'll lose much of his immunity from prosecution and civil lawsuits when he leaves office (not that being an ex-president and a billionaire won't cut him some slack), so he might be better off toning down his profile. Check out the Mahler article above for an outline of the cases that could (and probably should) be brought against him.

Claudia Sahm: Is Trump trying to take the economy down with him? "His Treasury secretary is shackling the nation's central bank and closing an emergency program for local governments." The New York Times Editorial Board on this: Mnuchin's inglorious endgame.

Richard Silverstein: Trump wanted to attack Iran, they talked him out of it . . . for now. A Trump military attack on Iran has been a great fear for some time now, perhaps as an "October surprise," or as a lame duck parting gift. This gives you an indication of how close he came to doing it. After all, "Trump loves wreckage."

Emily Stewart: Why Trump and McConnell are trying -- and failing -- to push through Fed pick Judy Shelton.

James Webb: Ending 'endless wars' could cement Trump's foreign policy legacy: Well, maybe if had done it three years ago, and secured policy changes with clear directives, redeployments, and personnel changes, he'd have a legacy. Instead, he escalated the wars erratically, gave "allies" a free hand to expand their own wars, repeatedly hired (and had to fire) hawks like John Bolton, subverted possible efforts at diplomacy. A.J. Muste used to say: "There is no way to peace; peace is the way." Just one of many things Trump never came close to understanding. I think it is true that Trump won votes in 2016 because Hillary Clinton tried to out-hawk him (remember her "commander-in-chief test"?). Conservative anti-war pundits invested great hope in Trump as an alternative to the neocon/neoliberal war nexus. Even today, Doug Bandow is writing: Donald Trump isn't gone yet and I already miss him. What he's really saying is that he doesn't trust Biden, and fears that Biden will be worse than Trump, because Biden has always gone along with bipartisan defense and security posturing. Still, he could have just said that, as Beinart and others cited above have done, but he still relishes the idea that conservatives are good guys -- even Trump.

Robin Wright: What will a vengeful president do to the world in his final weeks?

Obama Has a Book to Sell

Barack Obama is doing a press tour to promote his memoir, A Promised Land, reportedly the first of two volumes (one for each term). I watched the first half of his interview on Jimmy Kimmel. It was refreshing to see a major political figure with a self-effacing sense of humor, talking about a recognizably normal family life. I turned it off before Kimmel got around to promised questions about the issues and events that constitute his legacy. Four years of Donald Trump helps us remember what his appeal was, slightly different from how twelve years of Obama and Trump have dulled our sense of how awful George W Bush was.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: On Barack Obama's A Promised Land. Flagship New York Times review. Book sounds awful -- not in the same way ghost written books for Bush or Trump would be, but a long, deep, blinkered trawl through a deeply heartfelt worldview that was rarely up to what was needed. Especially troubling is his inability to counter Republicans even a decade after the fact. Then there is this:

With foreign policy, he is less guarded. He even manages a kind of poetic jingoism, where nearly every criticism of the United States is mere preface to an elegant and spirited defense. In this sense Barack Obama defies the stereotype of the American Liberal for whom American failure on the world stage is not the starter course but the main. He is a true disciple of American exceptionalism. That America is not merely feared but also respected is, he argues, proof that it has done something right even in its imperfectness. "Those who complained about America's role in the world still relied on us to keep the system afloat," he writes, a reactionary position, as if it were innately contradictory to question America's outsize role and also expect America to do well at the job it chose to give itself.

All that talent, and the best he could do for American jingoism was make it more poetic?

Ryan Grim: Obama book: Rahm Emanuel cooked up deal to promise Larry Summers Fed Chair. The way I understood the story is that Summers and Tim Geithner were the only candidates for Treasury, and Geithner refused to consider any other position, so Summers had to settle for the Council of Economic Advisers -- a position he used to prevent anyone else from offering advice to Obama. The real question nobody's answered is why anyone wanted to hire either of them, let alone put them in charge of the recovery. Both were, after all, totally in the pocket of the big banks, as they amply proved. Sure, Summers wanted the Fed Chair job even more, but due to staggered terms it wouldn't open up for a year. When it did, Obama reappointed Ben Bernanke -- a big mistake, I always thought, for while he wasn't the worst ever, you'd think Obama would have gone with his own person, given how much power the Fed Chair has to make or break his economy.

Constance Grady: In his new memoir, Obama defends -- and critiques -- his legacy.

John F Harris: Could Obama have been great?

Peter Kafka: Obama: The internet is "the single biggest threat to democracy." I would have said money, and its control over media. There's a lot more money in the Internet now than 4, 8, 20 years ago, and it's taken a toll, but Fox News still bothers me a lot more than Facebook.

Osita Nwanevu: Barack Obama doesn't have the answers: "The former president seems unable to reckon with the failures of his presidency and diagnose the Republican Party's incurable nihilism."

Alex Shephard: Barack Obama, media critic.

Paul Street: The real v. the liberal fantasy Obama presidency: Two excerpts from Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement: Street's recent book.

Around the World

Masha Gessen: The abortion protests in Poland are starting to feel like a revolution.

Fred Kaplan:

Terrence McCoy: Bolsonaro ran against corruption. Now, he'll have to find another slogan. You'd think so, but Trump ran on the same anti-corruption themes he used in 2016. The key is getting people to believe that it's only corruption when someone else does it.

Mitchell Plitnick: Pompeo's attack on BDS is an assault on free speech. That's kind of the lowest common denominator reaction to Pompeo, whose main thrust is less that you can't say you don't like Israel's human rights abuses as that you can't do anything about it. The whole point of BDS is to do something tangible that can lead to real changes but that doesn't incite or condone violence. Israel would rather face violence, which they're used to dealing with, than BDS, which questions their morality. However, free speech does come into play here, because the only way to counter the logic of BDS is to prohibit discussion of it.

Alex Ward:

Other Matters of Interest

Reed Albergotti: Apple is lobbying against a bill aimed at stopping forced labor in China.

Dean Baker: "Protecting intellectual property" against China means redistributing income upward.

Damian Carrington: Renewable energy defies Covid-19 to hit record growth in 2020.

Jonathan V Last: The Republican Party is dead. It's the Trump cult now.

JC Pan: Charles Koch got the free-market dystopia he wanted. Now he'd like your approval. "The same billionaire who refashioned the American political system to suit his needs is now calling for bipartisan cooperation -- on his terms." Also on Koch: Garrison Lovely: The reputation launderers: "Talking with monsters like they're not monsters isn't journalism -- it's cowardice."

Jeremy W Peters:

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: The gang that couldn't sue straight.

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