Nostalgia

I am actually old enough … I mean, I know that Republicans in Texas have been conservative for a long time, but there was a time when conservative Republicans in Texas were not absolutely batshit crazy.

Charlie Sykes

This week’s featured post is “Reading While Texan“.

This week everybody was talking about Manchin and Sinema

https://twitter.com/mluckovichajc/status/1448011993114361859

For weeks we’ve been wondering what price they would demand for getting on board with the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. We’re starting to see that price, and it’s steep.

Manchin is against the Clean Electricity Payment Program, which subsidizes the shift away from fossil fuels for generating electricity.

The $150 billion program — officially known as the Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP — would reward energy suppliers who switch from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to clean power sources like solar, wind, and nuclear power, which already make up about 40 percent of the industry, and fine those who do not.

Manchin claims the program isn’t necessary, because the shift is happening anyway. (The change he cites is over a 20 years period, and mainly shows a shift from coal to natural gas, a somewhat cleaner fossil fuel.) But it makes a huge difference how fast the shift happens. Remember: The most direct plan for cutting carbon emissions is just two steps long:

He also wants means tests on a number of programs, including the child tax credit, and possibly also a work requirement for parents who get the credit.

Sinema says she won’t vote for Build Back Better until the House passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Since it’s almost certain the House will eventually vote for the bill, this plan only makes sense if she wants to back out of whatever commitments she makes in the negotiations to pass both bills.

She also opposes the tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy that pay for the bill in its current form. I’m not sure whether she wants a smaller increase or no increase. Democrats are discussing a carbon tax to fill the fiscal hole, though I’m not sure what Manchin would think of that.

and subpoenas

With Trump’s encouragement, a number of his administration’s former officials and unofficial advisers are defying subpoenas from the House January 6 Committee. The committee will vote tomorrow on whether to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress.

“This potential criminal contempt referral — or will-be criminal contempt referral for Steve Bannon — is the first shot over the bow,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who serves on the committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union Sunday. “It’s very real, but it says to anybody else coming in front of the committee, ‘Don’t think that you’re gonna be able to just kind of walk away and we’re gonna forget about you. We’re not.’”

It’s important not to lose sight of just how far the country has gone down this rabbit hole. We’ve gotten used to the idea that Trump obstructs justice. He obstructed the Mueller investigation, the Ukraine investigation of his first impeachment, and the January 6 investigation of his second impeachment. We’ve gotten used to the idea that he makes laughable claims in lawsuits, purely for the purpose of using the courts to delay the release of potentially damaging information.

But Trump’s intransigence is not just politics, it’s new territory in American politics — recall Hillary Clinton testifying to the Benghazi Committee for 11 hours — and it threatens the rule of law. We once believed that politicians would avoid this kind of behavior out of shame, because of course the voters would ask “What is he hiding?” But Trump hides everything, so it’s just what he does. We once believed that no president would pardon his co-conspirators, or that Congress would of course respond to such an outrage by removing him from office. But Trump has done precisely that, and Republican senators let him.

“This potential criminal contempt referral — or will-be criminal contempt referral for Steve Bannon — is the first shot over the bow,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who serves on the committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union Sunday. “It’s very real, but it says to anybody else coming in front of the committee, ‘Don’t think that you’re gonna be able to just kind of walk away and we’re gonna forget about you. We’re not.’”

Bannon has zero justification for not testifying:

  • He was not a government official during the lead-up to January 6.
  • Former presidents have no claim on executive privilege unless the current president grants it, and Biden has not.
  • Executive privilege allows a witness not to answer specific questions. It doesn’t justify refusing to testify.

But the law is not the point: Trump wants to run out the clock on this investigation the way he did on all the others. If his party can get the House back in 2022, presumably Kevin McCarthy will get the investigation stopped, and the public will never know what crimes Trump (or Bannon or any of the others) committed.

What’s most appalling is not that Trump and his cronies would try this. It’s that Republicans support his obstruction up and down the line (with rare exceptions like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger), and he loses no support among his followers.

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/1017-mike-luckovich/CQ6C2PAXZRDHVFX4VE7GLTQOWA/

and the economy

As the economy comes back from the pandemic recession, workers are quitting their jobs in unprecedented numbers. Economists are calling it “The Great Resignation“.

“Quits,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, are rising in almost every industry. For those in leisure and hospitality, especially, the workplace must feel like one giant revolving door. Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August. That means one in 14 hotel clerks, restaurant servers, and barbacks said sayonara in a single month. Thanks to several pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, everybody, particularly if they are young and have a low income, has more freedom to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else.

Atlantic’s Derek Thompson continues:

As a general rule, crises leave an unpredictable mark on history. It didn’t seem obvious that the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 would lead to a revolution in architecture, and yet, it without a doubt contributed directly to the invention of the skyscraper in Chicago. You might be equally surprised that one of the most important scientific legacies of World War II had nothing to do with bombs, weapons, or manufacturing; the conflict also accelerated the development of penicillin and flu vaccines. If you asked me to predict the most salutary long-term effects of the pandemic last year, I might have muttered something about urban redesign and office filtration. But we may instead look back to the pandemic as a crucial inflection point in something more fundamental: Americans’ attitudes toward work. Since early last year, many workers have had to reconsider the boundaries between boss and worker, family time and work time, home and office.

Paul Krugman weighs in:

Until recently conservatives blamed expanded jobless benefits, claiming that these benefits were reducing the incentive to accept jobs. But states that canceled those benefits early saw no increase in employment compared with those that didn’t, and the nationwide end of enhanced benefits last month doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the job situation.

What seems to be happening instead is that the pandemic led many U.S. workers to rethink their lives and ask whether it was worth staying in the lousy jobs too many of them had.

For America is a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably badly. Wages are often low; adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than his counterpart did 40 years earlier. Hours are long: America is a “no-vacation nation,” offering far less time off than other advanced countries. Work is also unstable, with many low-wage workers — and nonwhite workers in particular — subject to unpredictable fluctuations in working hours that can wreak havoc on family life.


All along, economists figured that when the economy started to recover, there would be a blip of inflation. Production would have trouble ramping up as fast as spending, as many Americans would have money in their pockets due to a combination of government programs and their inability to spend normally during the pandemic. (Being retired, I don’t want to think about all the driving vacations my wife and I would have taken, which probably would have pushed us to buy a new car by now.)

The question was whether inflation would just blip up briefly, or whether a new inflationary cycle would start that would require some policy intervention (i.e., higher interest rates) to get under control. Paul Krugman has been on what he calls “Team Transitory”, but now he’s not sure; the data he would ordinarily use to tell the difference between the two scenarios is (as he puts it) “weird”. In other words, the current covid/post-covid economy is unique in ways that make it hard to read. He still argues against raising interest rates, because he sees cutting off the recovery as a bigger risk than letting inflation run for a while.

More about inflation in this Washington Post article.

and John Gruden

John Gruden, head coach of the Los Vegas Raiders NFL football team, resigned last Monday, after emails leaked out where he made racist, sexist, and homophobic comments. The emails were part of a trove of 650K emails related to the Washington Football Team (then called the Redskins), which the NFL was investigating because of reports of the toxic and abusive work environment for the team cheerleaders, and possibly other female employees. Presumably somebody at the NFL is responsible for the leak.

The Gruden emails were sent between 2010 and 2018, and though Gruden was not connected with the WFT at the time, he was corresponding with WFT President Bruce Allen, whose emails were being examined. The Gruden emails leaked out of the NFL’s investigation without being formally released.

There’s a lot not to like about this scandal. The comments themselves are reprehensible, and it makes perfect sense that Gruden should leave the Raiders now that they are public. Like every other team in the NFL, the Raiders have a large number of black players, as well as the NFL’s only openly gay player, who came out in June. Knowing that your coach uses slurs against people like you has got to disrupt your relationship with the team. So the players deserve a new coach.

In general, though, I dislike scandals based on people’s private conversations becoming public years later. If I had to be judged by the worst thing I ever said to someone I trusted not to repeat it, I doubt I could pass muster. My guess is that few Americans could. In particular, I wonder how many other NFL coaches could be taken down if their private emails were published.

So yes, Gruden is racist, sexist, homophobic, … but he’s also unlucky, in that he wandered into a investigation aimed at somebody else. And whoever leaked the emails seems to have intentionally targeted him. (First one email came out, and when it started to look like he might weather that storm, more appeared.) By condemning Gruden, we may be inadvertently carrying out somebody’s vendetta.

But any sympathy I might have had for Gruden vanished when he responded by saying that there was “not a blade of racism” in him. I don’t know why people say clueless crap like that, especially right after evidence surfaces that they do have those blades. American culture is a toxic stew of prejudices of all sorts, and we’ve all been soaking in it. Why can’t we just acknowledge that, and then affirm that we’re trying our best to overcome it? (Here’s an example of me practicing what I’m preaching.) It would be refreshing to hear someone respond to past evidence of racism with “I’ve learned a lot since then.” rather than “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.


The other thing not to like about the Gruden story is that he may not be the worst person in it. Reportedly, the Gruden emails also “featured photos of topless Washington Football Team cheerleaders”. It’s not clear whether Gruden was sending or receiving the images, but Allen was the WFT insider. Was he sharing illicit photos of his female employees?

And that raises a bigger question: The NFL launched this investigation in response to media reports that the Washington Football Team owner and executives harassed women, circulated surreptitiously obtained photos and videos of team cheerleaders, and put the women in “what they considered unsafe situations” with high-rolling season-ticket holders. Why is this the only thing that leaks out? Why is Gruden the only one to lose his job?

The report from that investigation is still secret, though we know that the team was fined $10 million dollars. And while that sounds like a lot, it really isn’t for a team valued at more than $4 billion. And remember: Whenever some law or rule or standard is only enforced by a fine, that means you can break it if you’re rich enough.

Chris Hayes discusses these issues with a former WFT cheerleader.


Friday, the NYT reported on the cozy relationship between Allen and the NFL general counsel who supervises investigations like the one into Allen’s team.

and you also might be interested in …

The downward trend in the Covid numbers continues: New cases are down 22% in the last two weeks, deaths down 19%.


One of those deaths was Colin Powell, who died at 84. He was vaccinated, but was fighting a cancer that compromised his immune system.


As Angela Merkel leaves the chancellorship of Germany, Thom Hartman notes all the ways that her position on the German center-right was considerably to the left of Bernie Sanders in the US.


Democrats are trying to pass an anti-gerrymandering law at the federal level, while simultaneously trying to gerrymander blue states like New York and Illinois more aggressively. At a simplistic level, this looks like hypocrisy, but I think this two-pronged approach is the only way we’ll get rid of gerrymandering. As long as it’s a one-sided advantage for Republicans, they’ll be unified in protecting it.

I believe in the Designated Hitter Principle: You may think that the designated hitter is a terrible idea that mars the purity of baseball. But if you play in a league where DHs are in the rules, you put a DH in your lineup.


Remember Andy McCabe, the guy who became acting head of the FBI after James Comey was fired, and then was fired himself just days before his scheduled retirement, so that his pension wouldn’t vest? He filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, which is now under new management. This week DoJ settled with McCabe, not admitting any wrongdoing, but giving him back his retirement benefits. “Plaintiff will be deemed to have retired from the FBI on March 19, 2018.” DoJ also pays McCabe’s attorney’s fees.


Media Matters reports:

Nearly a dozen of the Fox News guests the network has presented as concerned parents or educators who oppose the teaching of so-called “critical race theory” in schools also have day jobs as Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media personalities

The article lists 11 by name, including “concerned parent” Ian Prior, who has appeared 14 times on Fox to denounce CRT, without mentioning his professional work doing communications for the RNC, Jeff Sessions, Karl Rove, and other Republicans.

Fox has been particularly focused on fanning the critical race theory pseudo-issue in Virginia, where Pears and several other astroturf voices are from, and which (coincidentally) is electing a governor in a few weeks.

and let’s close with something reassuring

You may think your expressions in photos look odd, but your face does nothing like what dogs’ faces do when they’re trying to pluck a treat out of the air.

Reading While Texan

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/columns/7111880-ProCon-Critical-race-theory-is-a-manufactured-fear-being-exploited

Your worst fears about Texas schools aren’t true. But your next-to-worst fears probably are.


Here’s how deep the rabbit hole goes: NBC News received an audio recording of an administrator in the Dallas suburb of Southlake [1], telling teachers that a new law (HB 3979) requires them to offer an “opposing” perspective if they have books about the Holocaust in their classroom libraries. When a teacher asked “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” the administrator didn’t offer a suggestion, but replied “It’s come up. Believe me.” [2]

What’s most disturbing in this recording, to me at least, is that the administrator doesn’t sound like Holocaust denier who has been itching for years to get her extreme opinions into the curriculum. In general, she sounds like she’s on the teachers’ side. “If you think a book is OK, then let’s go with it. And whatever happens, we’ll fight it together.” She doesn’t seem ideological, she just wants to keep the school district out of trouble — like administrators in every other Texas school district.

On the calm-down side of this story, the NBC article also quotes experts who say that she overreacted to the law. And the school district posted this statement on its Facebook page:

During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust. As we continue to work through implementation of HB 3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.

So — big relief! — Southlake’s school libraries can still display The Diary of Anne Frank without “balancing” it against Mein Kampf.

What is controversial? Even if you accept that the Southlake administrator’s interpretation of the law was over the top, it’s worth taking a moment to read the portion of HB 3979 she was “overreacting” to:

(1) a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs;

(2) a teacher who chooses to discuss a topic described by Subdivision (1) shall, to the best of the teacher’s ability, strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective;

Apparently, cooler heads have determined that the Holocaust is not “widely debated and currently controversial” in Southlake (and thank God for that). But what is? The law is only eight pages long, and doesn’t give school districts any guidance on exactly how widely debated an issue must be before “diverse and contending perspectives” have to be “explored without deference”.

Worse, “debated” and “controversial” are fundamentally subjective notions. An issue becomes “debated” not because it is objectively dubious, but because somebody chooses to debate it. It becomes “controversial” whenever someone starts a controversy, no matter how baseless that controversy might be. [3] As much as I want to accept the school district’s assurance that “this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts”, I can’t find such a clear statement in the text of the law.

And even if you grant an exemption for “historical facts”, the very distinction between facts and opinions is itself controversial these days. The essence of Trumpism is to deny that objective facts can be found by examining evidence. (American intelligence agencies say one thing, but Vladimir Putin says something else. Who can determine where the truth lies?) If Trump repeats something often enough, it is true — or at the very least it becomes an “alternative fact“. Any evidence that refutes his opinion is “fake news”.

So it appears to me that if, say, a large number of people in some Texas community believe the Earth is flat — or if the Oracle of Mar-a-Lago starts making that claim — a classroom’s globe might become debated and controversial; it might need to be balanced against some other representation of the Earth. HB 3979 would then require teachers not to “defer” to the view that the Earth is spherical.

Or suppose one of your students has a parent like this guy, who wore a “Six million wasn’t enough” shirt to a Proud Boys rally in December. (They’re available online.) Would that make the Holocaust “controversial” enough to invoke the provisions of 3979? Or maybe you regard the fact of the Holocaust as beyond controversy, but describing it as “a terrible event” is a value judgment that this guy disputes. Doesn’t that make it “debated”? How many people have to agree with him before it’s “widely” debated?

Maybe that’s what “It’s come up. Believe me.” means.

https://www.adl.org/blog/proud-boys-bigotry-is-on-full-display

The big chill. But OK, let’s say you live in a sane town, where the Holocaust and the globe aren’t widely debated. Let’s say your local biology teacher can describe how evolution works without giving a “contending perspective” from Genesis, or that teachers at all levels can refer to Joe Biden as the President without any kind of disclaimer.

Or, at least, that’s how the law would be interpreted by a judge if a case went to court.

If you find that comforting, you’re ignoring the fact that most school administrators don’t want to go to court. Teachers, by and large, don’t want to be at the center of a public controversy. They want to spend their prep time on next week’s lesson plan, not on explaining to a review committee what they said or what books they made available. They don’t want to lose hours in meetings with the school district’s or their union’s lawyer, getting advice on how to present their case to a judge.

In practice, that means that bills like HB 3979 have chilling effects that go far beyond their legally enforceable boundaries.

So hurray! You can teach about the Holocaust, and maybe even say that it was wrong. What about slavery? Jim Crow? Government programs that helped White families accumulate wealth, but weren’t available to Black families? How far do you want to stick your neck out? [4]

New Kid. In a related Texas case, the Houston suburb Katy cancelled a virtual appearance by author Jerry Craft, and pulled his graphic novel New Kid from the shelves after a parent circulated a petition.

“New Kid,” a Newbery Medal-winning graphic novel, is about a seventh grader at a prestigious private school where he is one of the few students of color. …

“It is inappropriate instructional material,” [the petition-starting parent] said. “The books don’t come out and say we want white children to feel like oppressors, but that is absolutely what they will do.” [She] claimed the book promoted critical race theory as well as Marxism. The petition gained a few hundred signatures in a district of more than 80,000 students.

This article, also by NBC News, seems to imply that a “few hundred signatures” is not many. To me, it seems like an incredibly large number of people in one town to take a position on a children’s book. I have to wonder how many of the signers had ever heard of New Kid, and how many just believed that this petition would stop somebody from teaching “critical race theory”, whatever they imagine it to be.

Although HB 3979 is often referred to as a bill against teaching “critical race theory”, the law does not mention that term, and the particular things it does outlaw are a bizarre caricature of anything actually being taught, like

an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex

The petition has been taken down, so I don’t know the text of it. But I doubt it directly invokes the new law. It seems more like a standard attempt to get elected officials to take action.

My reading. I didn’t want to assume baselessly that the woman charging “critical race theory” and “Marxism” is crazy, so I read the book Saturday. (It’s 250 or so pages, but it’s a graphic novel; reading it takes maybe an hour, depending on how closely you examine the images.) Having now done my own research, here’s my newly informed opinion: She’s crazy.

New Kid is a pretty thoroughly uplifting book. What I got out of it is: If you ever reach a point where you can see past your own struggles, you’ll find that just about everybody is struggling in their own way.

The central character is a Black kid named Jordan Banks, so he struggles in a way that a Black kid might, including from the clueless assumptions of White kids and teachers. As the book develops, though, he gets enough slack to raise his glance and see the struggles of the other kids — including one White kid who is pathologically ashamed of the burn mark on her arm, and another who is afraid Jordan won’t like him because his family is too rich.

I can’t fathom what CRT or Marxism has to do with any of this, other than being buzzwords that MAGA-hatters throw at whatever they don’t like.

https://www.politico.com/cartoons/2021/10/01/october-2021-000259

Craft himself describes what he’s trying to do this way:

As an African American boy who grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, I almost never saw kids like me in any of the books assigned to me in school. Books aimed at kids like me seemed to deal only with history or misery. [5] That’s why it has always been important to me to show kids of color as just regular kids, and to create iconic African American characters like Jordan Banks from New Kid. I hope that readers of all ages will see the kindness and understanding that my characters exhibit and emulate those feelings in their day-to-day lives.

If you look at this book and see nothing but an attempt to make “white children feel like oppressors”, I don’t know what to tell you.

Happy endings? Like Southlake and the Holocaust, the story of Jerry Craft and Katy has an ending that is sort-of-happy, if you don’t look at it too closely: A review committee ruled that the book is appropriate and rescheduled Craft’s appearance. [6]

But again, consider the chilling effect. Suppose you’re a teacher putting together a reading list, or assembling a mini-library for your classroom. Now you know: Even a Newberry Medal book is suspect. Even if nothing on your list would offend any sane person, your name still might wind up in a petition, and you might need to justify your choices to a review committee.

How many worthwhile books (that we’ll never hear about) have teachers struck off their suggested-reading lists, not because they contain anything remotely objectionable, but because the teachers don’t want the hassle of dealing with crazy people? How many children, who might have discovered that reading could actually be interesting, will instead receive bland assignments that have nothing to do with their experiences?


[1] If you think you’ve heard of Southlake before, probably it’s from a previous racial controversy, which became the subject of a six-part NBC podcast.

[2] Let me offer an answer to the Southlake teacher’s question: You can balance a Holocaust book like The Diary of Anne Frank with The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, a first-person novel told from the point of view of an SS officer.

This is not a serious pedagogical suggestion, because Littell’s book is way too long and difficult for most students, not to mention upsetting. (I would worry about a student who managed to finish it.) But if you need to cover your ass, it does present an opposing (or at least contrasting) perspective.

An in-between perspective might be Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy of detective novels. Kerr’s detective Bernie Gunther isn’t a Nazi himself, but given the times, he frequently finds himself unable to say “no” to cases of interest to people like Heydrich or Goebbels. Kerr should be readable by advanced students at the high-school level, and might give them sympathy for the unsavory choices ordinary people face when they live under a totalitarian regime.

Similarly, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 detective trilogy humanizes one of Stalin’s secret policemen.

[3] Part of what makes a position “debatable” in practice is the wealth and power of the people who debate it. Climate change, for example, is still “debatable” because fossil fuel corporations have the resources to keep their point of view in the public eye, in spite of the scientific consensus on the other side.

[4] The text of the law might be on your side, if you make it into a courtroom.

[T]he State Board of Education shall adopt essential knowledge and skills that develop each student’s civic knowledge, including an understanding of: … the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong

[5] One of the running gags in New Kid is the lack of diversity in the themes of “diversity literature”, which Jordan parodies as “a gritty, urban reminder of the grit of today’s urban grittiness”. One panel is labeled “African American escapist literature”, and features books titled “Escape From Gang Life”, “Escape From Slavery”, “Escape From Poverty”, and “Escape From Prison”.

[6] I give Craft credit for not saying “Fuck you” to the whole town.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The week’s most alarming story, by far, was the claim by a Texas school administrator that teachers might have to offer an “opposing perspective” if they included books about the Holocaust in their classroom libraries. Subsequently, the school district backed away from that public-relations disaster: The Holocaust is not one of the “controversial and widely debated” topics that a new Texas law requires teachers to cover in a balanced way. It is officially “a terrible event in history”, and can be discussed without mentioning any pro-Holocaust perspective.

What a relief!

However, I can’t help but be disturbed by the idea that that’s where the battleline is. And I wonder: What books are Texas teachers tossing out right now because their topics are slightly less one-sided than the Holocaust? So this week’s featured post is “Reading While Texan”. It discusses the Holocaust “controversy” and the law that sparked it. I also look at a different school district — a Houston suburb this time rather than a Dallas suburb — where a Newberry Medal book about a Black seventh-grader got taken off the shelves so that a review committee could decide whether it was “critical race theory”. Again, the story has a “happy” ending: The book is back on the shelves. But if that’s what we’re fighting about, where is the line exactly?

That post is almost ready, and should be out shortly after 9 EDT.

The weekly summary will cover the price Senators Manchin and Sinema are demanding for supporting what will remain of Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Also: the attempt to enforce subpoenas on Trump’s allies, John Gruden, inflation, workers’ reluctance to return to bad jobs, and a few other things. That should be out around noon or so.

Insidious Undermining

Corruption and cronyism can undermine political stability and legitimacy as surely as violence can, albeit more insidiously.

– The Washington Post Editorial Board
The Pandora Papers gave us rare transparency: Is there hope for more?
(10-8-2021)

This week’s featured post is “What to Make of the Pandora Papers?

This week everybody was talking about Congress

Still no reconciliation infrastructure bill, but at least we won’t pointlessly wreck the world economy by hitting the debt ceiling, at least not until December.

I know I keep repeating this, but it needs saying: There is no reason to have a debt ceiling. Other countries don’t. The time to worry about the debt is during the regular budget process, when Congress is appropriating money and setting tax rates, not when the country is borrowing to cover money already committed. In practice, the debt ceiling functions as a self-destruct button that irresponsible legislators can threaten to push.

Mitch McConnell is facing criticism in his caucus for backing down on pushing the self-destruct button, and is pledging to be more irresponsible when it comes up again in December.


It continues to be hard to tell where the reconciliation-bill negotiations are, or to predict where (or when) they will wind up. I’m having trouble even finding a good article about where things stand. We’ll know when we know.

and the Trump coup

The Senate Judiciary Committee issued a 400-page report outlining what we know about Trump’s subversion of the Justice Department in service to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election. The story suffers from the problems of any slowly evolving narrative: We sort of knew all that already, but we didn’t know it in this detail or with this degree of certainty.

For example, stories that the NYT or WaPo published based on anonymous sources are repeated here, but based on testimony under oath. That’s actually new, but it doesn’t feel new.

The Republican minority’s defense of Trump is basically that he didn’t succeed this time. When DoJ officials threatened to resign en masse if he installed Jeffrey Clark as attorney general so he could push the Big Lie, for example, Trump backed down. So no harm, no foul.

Josh Marshall makes an analogy:

You’re in the bank, alarm goes off, cops surround the bank: then you say, okay, I’m not feeling it. I’m calling this off.


A number of Trump’s associates are defying subpoenas from the House January 6 Committee. Trump himself is urging this defiance, and justifying it based on a completely bogus interpretation of executive privilege.

Executive privilege belongs to the office of the presidency, not to the individual who holds that office. And it is exercised by the current president, not the one whose past actions are being investigated. Often presidents will protect past administrations, particularly when the information sought continues to have security implications. But Biden is not going to help Trump cover up his attempt to steal the election from Biden.

This is a point Trump has missed all along: He always treated his power as personal power, and not as the power of his office.

and Facebook

Former Facebook insider Frances Haugen testified to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection Tuesday, following an appearance on 60 Minutes last week.

Her basic message is that Facebook’s profit motive conflicts with the public good — which is pretty much the definition of when regulation is necessary. In general, Facebook benefits by promoting engagement, and that usually means taking advantage of weaknesses. If you’re obsessed with something, Facebook gives you more of it. If something angers you to the point that you just have to respond, Facebook benefits.

That tendency is most obviously destructive and wrong when it comes to minors — teen girls, say. Haugen told 60 Minutes:

What’s super tragic, is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed, and it actually makes them use the app more

Bad as Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram) are, I hope they don’t become scapegoats for an entire industry that responds to the same market dynamics. As Shoshana Zuboff described in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, all the social-media companies have the same model: Provide a free service, learn things about people by watching them use the service, and then use that knowledge to manipulate their behavior.

It’s not that Facebook is uniquely evil. But this is a setting where the market rewards evil. Facebook is the current market leader, but the next market leader would be just as bad.

and the Texas abortion law

Now it’s blocked, and now it isn’t, as federal court rulings ping-ponged back and forth this week.

The state law, SB 8, which effectively eliminates abortions after six weeks of pregnancy by allowing private citizens to sue people (other than the pregnant woman herself) who are involved in an abortion after the presence of electrical activity that presages a fetal heartbeat after a heart eventually develops, took effect September 1 after the Supreme Court refused to block it.

The federal Justice Department filed suit against Texas on September 9. Wednesday, a federal judge granted DoJ’s request for an injunction to block enforcement of the law, denouncing the State of Texas for contriving an “unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme” to deprive citizens of their “right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability”.

Friday, a federal appeals court put a temporary stay on that injunction, pending its consideration of a more permanent ruling.

Even if the injunction is eventually upheld, abortions in Texas may still be limited by the slippery nature of SB 8. The injunction prevented Texas courts from processing lawsuits filed under SB 8, but can’t eliminate abortion providers’ liability if the law is eventually upheld, which could take years to determine. (SB 8 allows lawsuits to be filed up to four years after the abortion.)

I continue to wish that a blue state would concoct some similar civil-lawsuit scheme to ban gun sales — not in order to ban gun sales, but to see how fast the partisan Supreme Court would act to defend a constitutional right that Republican voters care about.

and the pandemic

Average new cases per day in the US have gone back below 100K, down from 175K in mid-September. Deaths have declined less sharply, from over 2000 per day to around 1750. But we’re still well above the mid-June lows, when new cases fell to around 12K per day, with daily deaths in the 200s.

In general, regional differences are evening out, with a few high-risk areas in Alaska, Appalachia, and counties along the northern border.

I’ll make a wild guess and predict that cases and deaths will continue to drop at least until Thanksgiving.


Merck has filed for FDA emergency use authorization of its new anti-Covid pill.


Right-wing politician and commentator Allen West, who is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in the Republican primary, took hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin rather than get vaccinated. He’s going into the hospital with low oxygen levels after catching Covid.


Chris Hayes won’t let up on the Fox News hosts who challenge every vaccine mandate except the one that actually applies to them at Fox News. I think he’s enjoying himself.

and you also might be interested in …

Climate change destroyed 14% of the world’s coral reefs between 2009 and 2018. The root problem is that the increased carbon in the atmosphere gets absorbed into the ocean, making it more acidic.


September’s jobs report was positive, but still fell well short of economists’ expectations as the economy added 194K jobs rather than the predicted 500K. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.8%, indicating that the weakness was due more to people staying out of the job market than to a lack of jobs for them to find.

The theory that extended unemployment benefits were keeping people from looking for jobs — and so they would flood back into the market when those benefits ended in early September — failed, just as it failed when most red states cut benefits inJuly.

“Many people had Sept. 1 marked on their calendars as the day when things would go back to normal — when they would return to their offices, their kids would return to school and they’d head back to their favorite bars. But instead, the recovery sputtered,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with hiring site ZipRecruiter.

As has been true all along, the economic problem is the pandemic itself (which surged in September, but now is receding again) not government responses to it. Workers (particularly women) are reluctant to go back to high-risk, low-pay, public-facing jobs, or to return their unvaccinated small children to group daycare centers (which are having trouble staffing up anyway). And as far as “favorite bars”, I’m still only going to restaurants with outdoor seating. Apparently it’s not just me:

the recent surge in covid cases, which is slowly abating, spooked many diners who earlier this summer had embraced going to restaurants in record levels. Restaurant attendance has been inching down in August and September, according to the reservation app Open Table.

The overall number of restaurants has fallen 13% since the spring of 2020 and restaurant employment is about a million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels.


Speaking of childcare, and the portion of Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that tries to improve it (and make us more like other first-world countries), the NYT describes the situation faced by a couple in Greensboro, North Carolina:

Until their elder son started kindergarten this fall, Jessica and Matt Lolley paid almost $2,000 a month for their two boys’ care — roughly a third of their income and far more than their payments on their three-bedroom house. But one of the teachers who watched the boys earns so little — $10 an hour — that she spends half her time working at Starbucks, where the pay is 50 percent higher and includes health insurance.

… The huge social policy bill being pushed by President Biden would cap families’ child care expenses at 7 percent of their income, offer large subsidies to child care centers, and require the centers to raise wages in hopes of improving teacher quality. A version before the House would cost $250 billion over a decade and raise annual spending fivefold or more within a few years. An additional $200 billion would provide universal prekindergarten.

One aspect of the child-care problem that doesn’t get enough attention is that it’s yet another poverty trap: If child care costs more than a couple’s second paycheck, the short-term economic incentive is for the lower-earning parent to stay home. But parents who can afford to stay in the job market anyway might improve their career prospects in ways that make long-term economic sense. This poverty-trapping effect hits even harder when one parent is investing in a career, either by going to school or working an internship, rather than earning an immediate paycheck.


Saturday, the NYT’s top-of-the-web-page article examined China’s potential military threat to Taiwan, and whether either the Taiwanese or the Americans are adequately prepared for it.

The article makes me wish I could trust the Pentagon (and the Times’ relationship to the Pentagon) more than I do. Maybe the concerns expressed there are completely legit and as worrisome as they sound. Or the article could be defense-budget propaganda: Maybe the Chinese military threat has to be emphasized now that the American people have lost interest in Afghanistan and the Islamic threat more generally.

A New Yorker article from August raised that point in response to a different China hawk:

A smart liberal’s reply to Colby might be: Is this for real? Americans have spent much of the past two decades trying to find some way through the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan that political hawks urged on them. Now that the full depth of the latter debacle has become so impossible to deny that the V.A. is issuing suicide-awareness bulletins for former soldiers suffering from “moral distress,” the hawks want to urge another generation-defining conflict on Americans?

A bunch of thoughts complicate my layman’s analysis (which is all you’re left with when you don’t trust the experts): As the article points out, the US already spends three times as much on defense as China does. However, given the inefficiencies and pork-barrel spending built into our defense budget, plus the fact that things are just cheaper in China, we probably don’t have a 3-to-1 advantage in real military resources.

And then there’s the fact that China hasn’t fought a war in a very long time. From generals down to privates, just about everybody involved in a hypothetical Taiwan invasion would be seeing their first combat. Would President Xi really trust the results of his war games that much?

And finally, if I were running China, I would see many long-term global trends running in my favor, and be worried about screwing them up. (This WaPo columnist disagrees: What if pro-China trends are about to turn, as its economy becomes more government-centered and its politics more tyrannical?) War is always a throw of the dice. So I hope Xi knows the story of King Croesus of Lydia and the Oracle of Delphi. “If Croesus attacks Persia,” the Oracle pronounced, “he will destroy a great empire.”

He did attack, and the empire he destroyed was his own.


Mike Pence is laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential campaign. He truly does not seem to understand that January 6 ended his political career. He didn’t do everything he could to steal the election for Trump, so diehard Trumpists will always see him as disloyal. But at the same time, he will never be able to separate himself from his four years of enabling and defending Trump.

When it comes to replacing democracy with a fascist personality cult, you can’t be half committed.


Trump and his followers are rallying behind Max Miller’s primary campaign against Ohio Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, who committed the unforgivable sin of voting for Trump’s second impeachment. The domestic violence charges made by Miller’s former girlfriend, Trump’s former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, don’t seem to be regarded as a big deal by comparison.

This kind of thing was inevitable once Republicans decided to ignore the Access Hollywood tape (where Trump bragged about a pattern of sexual assaults), as well as the corroborating testimony from dozens of his victims. In Republican circles, assaulting women is now just something that manly men do, and that women are understood to routinely lie about.


Here’s what one guy learned from working in a California gun shop.

Guns in America require a fix that isn’t written into law. It’s something deeper, something in society that causes men to turn to weapons as their last vestiges of manhood.

and let’s close with something sexy

If you think it’s hard to attract a human mate, watch what this puffer fish has to do.

What to Make of the Pandora Papers?

https://cartoonmovement.com/cartoon/looters-0

There are reasons why you should care.


Last week, a vast trove of documents called the Pandora Papers became available to the public, and stories based on these documents started appearing in newspapers around the world. The documents reveal much about the wealth that the global elite keep hidden.

If that story sounds familiar, it should. This is the third round of such revelations from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), following the Panama Papers in 2016 and the Paradise Papers in 2017. That’s why The Wall Street Journal’s Joseph Sternberg responded with “Everyone already knows this stuff.

In other words: Yeah, the world is corrupt and here’s more of it. But so what? The super-rich play by a different set of rules — always have, always will. What’s the point of looking into how it all works?

It’s hard to imagine a more corrosive take on this story. It’s one thing if a few masterminds are so clever that their crimes escape detection. But if no one cares when hidden crimes are exposed — or if a few scapegoats are punished, but the system rolls on unchanged — then the world is very sick indeed. As The Washington Post’s editorial board observed:

[T]he big picture — of a vast, no-questions-asked-zone, open to legitimate and illegitimate transactions alike — is concerning. Corruption and cronyism can undermine political stability and legitimacy as surely as violence can, albeit more insidiously. To the extent the world’s offshore havens are facilitating official malfeasance, they are contributing to the global decline of democracy.

So while I could spend my time exploring how the offshore systems works, or raising outrage about extreme cases, or reacting in some other way, I think the most valuable thing I can do is try to answer that basic so-what question: Why should you care about all this?

After looking at what a variety of other people are saying and talking to a few insightful friends, I think the answers boil down to these:

  • The importance of corruption as a central issue connecting all other issues.
  • The accomplishments of previous rounds of revelations.
  • The momentum of ever-larger exposures of secrets.
  • America’s role in building and maintaining the corrupt system has to end.

Corruption. It’s not an exaggeration to say that corruption is the most important issue of our time. Money buys power, and power gathers more money. No matter what issue you care about, progress is impeded (or maybe blocked completely) by wealthy special interests that can influence the course of events in ways that go well beyond you and your vote and your voice in the public square.

Brooke Harrington points out that the issue is not just money.

“[T]ax havens” aren’t really for avoiding taxes: They exist to help elites avoid the rule of law that they impose on the rest of us. The offshore financial industry is generating much of the economic and political inequality destabilizing the world.

It’s one thing when money works its influence openly. If some giant corporation runs ads telling us all how wonderful it is, if it puts out press releases telling us what public policies it wants, and if it endorses and supports candidates who promise to implement those policies, then the People can judge. Climate-denying Senator James Inhofe, for example, is widely known as “the Senator from Exxon-Mobil”. But if the voters of Oklahoma know that and elect him anyway, that’s democracy.

What’s really destructive, though, is secret money in all its forms: lobbyists who work behind the scenes, writing laws that legislators attach their names to; candidates supported by political action committees with benign names, whose donors are not known; “academic” research whose conclusions are dictated by invisible donors, and so on.

The ultimate form of secret money is wealth whose owners can’t be identified at all, and which can be transferred from one person to another without any traceable transaction. Such wealth allows dictators to siphon their nation’s wealth away, and to hang onto it even after they lose power. It allows bribes of any size to go to officials in any country.

The existence of secret wealth and a system for transferring it from one malefactor to another is more than just a tax on the legitimate economy, it corrodes the public trust that is necessary for collective action. Conspiracy theories of all sorts seem more plausible, given the extent of what we know we don’t know. The vague awareness of an untouchable global elite can motivate authoritarian populism, the desire for a man-on-horseback who can sweep it all away without being caught in the tangle of corrupt laws and contracts.

Past accomplishments. Sternberg’s so-what take on the Pandora Papers roots itself in the assumption that the Panama and Paradise Papers turned out to be “duds”.

There they go again. Another year, another breathless media uproar over “revelations” of the financial comings and goings of the world’s super-rich. Reporters spend many months combing through documents extracted—we’re never told how—from various law firms and other service providers presumably because the reporters think exposing this information will accomplish . . . well, we’re never sure what.

He notes that only one world leader — the prime minister of Iceland, if you call that a world leader — had to resign. But Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s 10-year prison sentence should count for something, even if he was already out of office. And that’s not the only kind of impact. For example, by 2019, the Panama Papers had led to governments recovering $1.2 billion in taxes.

Brooke Harrington observes that impacts on the reputations of the rich and powerful are also important. Subjects of ICIJ revelations may stave off legal consequences, but the embarrassment stings.

And focusing on what the people exposed by the Panama and Paradise Papers got away with is not the full story: The whistleblowers also got away with it. The ICIJ succeeded in shielding their sources from exposure.

Five years on, we still do not know the identity of “John Doe,” who leaked the Panama Papers, nor of the person or people who leaked the Paradise Papers four years ago.

And that’s one reason why the troves of leaked documents are getting bigger: The Pandora Papers come from 14 different financial services companies, where the Panama Papers all came from one.

Brooke Harrington:

As I found in talking with wealth managers all over the world, a significant number understand that their work has contributed to dangerous levels of economic and political inequality; they want to do something, and many understand that one of the most effective uses of their insider position would be to pull back the veil of secrecy that makes so much of offshore corruption possible.

As whistleblowers are emboldened, potential clients of the offshore industry may be discouraged: The firm that promises you secrecy may not be able to fulfill that pledge.

Momentum. So the right metaphor for the various “papers” is hammer blows against a wall. The first blow didn’t bring it down, and neither did the second — though each left a mark. The third probably won’t bring it down either, though we can hope for a bigger mark, or maybe even a few chips flying.

But it’s not going to stop.

What the ICIJ has done during these five years is construct an infrastructure for attacking financial secrecy. And that makes these revelations fundamentally different from past Pulitzer-winning exposé from the point of view of one crusading newspaper like The New York Times or The Washington Post. ICIJ has constructed a searchable database that allows each local news outlet to research the story most relevant to its audience.

So while the national papers tell us about the King of Jordan‘s secretly purchased $106 million mansions in Malibu, Georgetown, and London, or the Czech prime minister‘s $22 million chateau in France, The Miami Herald writes about the local mansion secretly owned by empoverished Haiti’s richest man. (The Czech opposition parties gained enough seats in this weekend’s election that they may be able to unseat the prime minister, who has a nice chateau to retire to.)

In Florida, the Bigios have lived behind protective gates in the most exclusive of zones, Indian Creek Island. They’ve enjoyed protection from local police officers who around the clock staff the entrance gate to the private island community. Property records show their home is held in the name of two corporations: Agro Products and Services, registered in Florida, and Porpoise Investments Ltd., a shell company registered in the Isle of Man, a self-governing low-tax British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea.

In other words, there’s not just a mechanism for protecting people who reveal the secrets of the super-rich, there’s a path for getting that information to the people who will care most about it.

The ultimate point of these hammer blows is not to send some scapegoat to prison or embarrass another one into retiring from politics. The point is to change public opinion in ways that change the landscape of what is politically and legally possible. Changing public opinion always seems impossible until it happens. (Same-sex marriage is a good example.) But once it starts happening, it can move quickly.

Change starts at home. We’re used to thinking of offshore tax havens as tiny island nations like the Bermuda, or places with a long tradition of secrecy like Switzerland. But perhaps the most shocking thing I learned from the Pandora Papers articles I read was that South Dakota now rivals Zurich, the Cayman Islands, and other famous wealth-hiding havens. One Dominican family’s money came from exploiting poor workers in the sugar cane fields; it now sits in trusts in Sioux Falls, where it should be safe against worker lawsuits.

Other states competing to lure wealth include Alaska, Delaware, Nevada and New Hampshire.

https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-bramhall-editorial-cartoons-2021-jul-20210714-q3ci53xdj5fnlop6bxwz63pbk4-photogallery.html

Think about how you felt a few paragraphs ago, when you read about “the world’s offshore havens … facilitating official malfeasance [and] contributing to the global decline of democracy” or “help[ing] the elite avoid the rule of law”. Maybe you got angry at some imagined remote island paradise, where corporations are headquartered in post office boxes.

Nope. It’s the United States (and the UK). The people undermining the rule of law and contributing to the global decline in democracy? It’s us.

It’s got to stop.

This isn’t somebody else’s problem that we can feel superior about or shake our fists helplessly at. If public opinion is going to turn against secret money anywhere, and if popular resolve is going to force the system to change, it’s got to start here.

So sure, the overall story of the Fill-In-the-Blank Papers is hard to get a handle on. The topic is intentionally confusing, the examples are too diverse to sum up easily, and the time scale is longer than stories we usually think about. But don’t lose track of this, because it’s important, things are happening, and it’s your problem too.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Last week the Pandora Papers were coming out just as I was putting out the Sift, so all I could do was say that it was happening and give you a few links. With a week to think about it, this week’s featured post will discuss what to make of it all. Is there more going on here than just confirmation of the eternal truth that the rich play by a different set of rules?

It’s a holiday and I’m running on a slower schedule, so that post probably won’t appear until around 11 EDT.

The weekly summary has a number of things to cover: the debt ceiling deal, and the continuing negotiations around the Biden agenda; an interim report on the Trump coup; Facebook’s whistleblower testifying to Congress; the back-and-forth court rulings about the Texas abortion law; a discouraging jobs report; worries about China and Taiwan; and the continuing turn-around in the Covid surge — all of which leads up to a closing about the things a puffer fish will do for love.

Look for that around 1.

Who Benefits?

The Pandora Papers … mostly demonstrates that the people that could end the secrecy of off-shore, end what’s going on, are themselves benefiting from it.

Gerard Ryle,
Director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

This week’s featured post is “Pandemics Are Beaten By Communities, Not Individuals“.

This week everybody was talking about Congress

https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/end-filibuster-toomfoolery/

Some important stuff got done this week and other important stuff got delayed, but at least complete disaster was avoided for now.

in general, we’re still in the same situation I talked about last week: The public can see what has gotten done and what hasn’t gotten done. But the negotiations over the stuff that still needs doing are private, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen.

We’re talking about trillions of dollars and very important decisions, though, so everybody wants to know what’s going to happen. Consequently, commentators are speculating like mad. And that’s fine, as long as we all understand that none of us really know anything.

So I want to caution everybody not to get too spun up about Manchin and Sinema, or the Congressional Progressive Caucus, or the Democratic leadership, or President Biden, or whoever you plan to blame for whatever bad things you think are going to happen. Wait and see how it all comes out.


What got done was keeping the government running until December 3. The new fiscal year began Friday, and the government did not shut down. That seems like a relatively low hurdle, but with one of the major parties committed to sabotage, it was an accomplishment.

Beyond that, stay tuned. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that she will run out of wiggle room later this month if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.

The new estimate from Yellen raises the risk that the United States could default on its debt in a matter of weeks if Washington fails to act. A default would likely be catastrophic, tanking markets and the economy, and delaying payments to millions of Americans.

A bill to raise the debt ceiling passed the House but was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate last Monday. Mitch McConnell insisted that “Republicans are not rooting for … a debt limit breach.” They’re just not willing to vote to prevent one as long as a Democrat is president. Democrats did not act this way during the recent Republican administration.

https://www.startribune.com/sack-cartoon-in-case-of-emergency/600100189/

And then there are the two infrastructure bills: the $1 trillion bipartisan one (which everyone is calling the BIF) that passed the Senate, and the $3.5 trillion one that Democrats want to pass via the filibuster-avoiding reconciliation process, but that Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (and a few Democrats in the House) are still not supporting.

[Note: All these numbers are over ten years, so they’re not as big as they look. We’re currently spending over $700 billion a year on defense, but we appropriate it year-by-year, so we never end up talking about a $7 trillion defense bill.]

The Manchin/Sinema faction (which isn’t very big, but doesn’t need to be with voting majorities this small) was hoping to pass the BIF first, then talk about the larger bill. So far, House progressives (with President Biden’s support) have blocked that path. (Josh Marshall points out how strangely negative the NYT’s coverage of this has been.)

Manchin wants a smaller price tag, and wants programs (free community college, for example) to be means-tested rather than general entitlements. What Sinema wants is unclear.

While I admit to not knowing any more than the other speculating commentators, I remain optimistic. All Democrats must know that they face disaster in 2022 if they can’t point to meaningful accomplishments. And whether you’re progressive or moderate, and whether you face a re-election campaign or not, you have to understand that being in the minority sucks. (If Mitch McConnell gets control of the Senate again, no one will care what Joe Manchin thinks.) So I believe they will make something happen, though I can’t predict what it will be.


Unsurprisingly, Kevin McCarthy is lying about the infrastructure bills raising middle-class taxes.

and the pandemic

This week brought a sad milestone — the 700,000th American death — but also good news: a pill that can help you get well after you’ve been infected.

Friday, Merck announced molnupiravir. (Where do they get these names? If I’d seen that word without an explanation, I’d have guessed it was a Norse weapon like Thor’s hammer.) It’s new and hasn’t been approved yet, but the results from the trials look good.

The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered high risk for severe disease because of health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. The results have not been reviewed by outside experts, the usual procedure for vetting new medical research.

Among patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3% were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1% of those getting the dummy pill. After that time period, there were no deaths among those who received the drug, compared with eight in the placebo group, according to Merck.

The breakthrough is that it’s a pill people can take at home.

All other COVID-19 treatments now authorized in the U.S. require an IV or injection. A pill taken at home, by contrast, would ease pressure on hospitals and could also help curb outbreaks in poorer and more remote corners of the world that don’t have access to the more expensive infusion therapies.

“This would allow us to treat many more people much more quickly and, we trust, much less expensively,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research.

Experts emphasize that the best way forward is still vaccination: Prevention is better than treatment.

And like every other way to fight Covid, Merck’s pill isn’t a guarantee: 7.3% of the people who took it in the trial wound up either in the hospital or dead. (Remember: They were chosen to be a high-risk group. Your odds might be better.) So it’s best to think of molnupiravir as part of a defense-in-depth strategy: Get vaccinated. Avoid high-risk situations (like packed-in indoor crowds). Take Merck’s pill if you get sick. And if you still have to go the hospital, get monoclonal antibodies or some other IV therapy.


The other good news is that the Delta surge really does seem to have passed its peak. In spite of hitting the 700K total, deaths per day have finally started to decline. After being above 2000 per day for two weeks, they’ve now fallen to 1878 per day. New cases are averaging 106K per day, down 28% in the last two weeks.

Strangely, the states where cases are still rising are nearly all on the Canadian border: Alaska is the worst, up 54% in two weeks, but cases are also rising in North Dakota, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, and (just slightly) in New Hampshire.

This is weird because:

  • Canada isn’t seeing a big outbreak. (Cases are down 3% in two weeks.)
  • There’s not a lot of transit back and forth among our northern states. The Maine-to-Idaho region is not a thing.

New York City’s vaccine mandate is working. In spite of scary stories about thousands and thousands of teachers who would lose their jobs rather than get vaccinated, large numbers are getting vaccinated at the last minute.


If you’re old enough to remember the Tea Party anti-ObamaCare protests of 2009, the current anti-mask and anti-mandate protests should look familiar: School board meetings around the country are being disrupted now, the way that congressional town-hall meetings were then, by loud people who seem to represent a upswelling of grass-roots anger. The disinformation, the over-the-top accusations of tyranny, the air of menace — it’s all pretty similar.

Coincidentally, the same people turn out to be funding and organizing it on a national level. Once again, they’re providing the disinformation and the tactics that allow a relatively small number of folks to look like a national movement.

The letter sounds passionate and personal. … But the heartfelt appeal is not the product of a grass roots groundswell. Rather, it is a template drafted and circulated this week within a conservative network built on the scaffolding of the Koch fortune and the largesse of other GOP megadonors.

The template is being distributed by the Independent Women’s Forum. But who are they, exactly?

As a nonprofit, Independent Women’s Forum is exempt from disclosing its donors and paying federal income taxes. But the group, which reported revenue of nearly $3.8 million in 2019, has drawn financial and institutional support from organizations endowed by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his late brother, David, according to private promotional materials as well as tax records and other public statements.

Tributes to sponsors prepared for recent galas — and reviewed by The Post — recognize the Charles Koch Institute as a major benefactor. Other backers include Facebook; Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway fortune and the husband of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; and the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropy controlled by the family that founded Walmart.

Another similarity to the Obama era: Patrician conservatives don’t care if their plebian followers die. Back then, Koch organizations campaigned to get people to refuse ObamaCare, even if they couldn’t afford health insurance without it. That campaign undoubtedly killed people, just like this one is killing people.

and the Pandora Papers

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has a new treasure trove of leaked documents outlining how the rich and powerful hide their money. You can think of this YouTube video as a trailer for the more detailed revelations that started showing up today on the ICIJ’s web site and in newspapers like The Washington Post.

I have a friend who’s been working on this project, but he’s been taking confidentiality seriously, so as of this morning I didn’t know any details.

but I want to tell you about a book

This week I read Forget the Alamo, which I found enormously entertaining.

The short version is that everything you think you know about the Alamo is wrong. The Texas Revolution wasn’t about escaping Mexican tyranny, it was about preserving slavery. Sam Houston’s army was seeded with American military “deserters”, who mostly went unpunished after they returned to their units. (That kind of resembles what Putin has been doing in eastern Ukraine.) The Alamo wasn’t a strategically significant battle where brave Texans voluntarily sacrificed their lives; William Travis just didn’t take Santa Anna’s advance seriously until it was too late to retreat. Davy Crockett didn’t go down swinging his rifle after he ran out of ammunition, as he does in the movies, but most likely surrendered and was executed. And so on.

In addition to the pure satisfaction of dispelling historical myths, the authors manage to take history seriously while still writing in an engaging style. Take this passage for example:

[Davy Crockett’s] arrival at the Alamo is one of history’s great juxtapositional flukes, as if Teddy Roosevelt or Mark Twain had darted onto the Titanic at the last minute.

In the early 1830s, Texas was where an American Southerner went after screwing up so badly that he had to disappear from somewhere else. So the backstories of all the major characters are fascinating.

After the battle, there’s the progress of the myth, which had an open field because there were no survivors to contradict tall tales. (“Ahem,” say Mexican soldiers.) What developed was what the authors call the Heroic Anglo Narrative, which served to terrorize generations of Hispanic Texan seventh-graders. (One Tejano compares “The Mexicans killed Davy Crockett” to “The Jews killed Jesus.”)

In addition to the historical detail, the book is a running meditation on the stories we tell each other, why we believe them, and what they say about us.

and you also might be interested in …

On my religious blog, I explained why “Male and female he created them” in Genesis shouldn’t be read as a divine establishment of binary gender.


The partisan hacks at the Supreme Court continue to be deeply offended that so many people think they’re partisan hacks. Samuel Alito, who continues to be my least favorite justice even after Trump’s three appointments, is the latest one to object.

Senator Whitehouse parodies Alito’s argument:

“Nope, just random that we churned out 80 partisan 5-4 decisions for Republican donors, opened dark money floodgates, crippled Voting Rights Act, unleashed partisan bulk gerrymandering, and protected corporations from court. Pure coincidence.”

Alito makes the bottom of my list due to his consistency. Other justices (Thomas, say) may at times have more bizarre opinions. But they also have ideological quirks that make them at least a little unpredictable. If you want to know where Alito will stand, though, you just need to ask three questions:

  • Which side of a case increases Republican political power?
  • Which side increases big business’ power over workers and consumers?
  • Which side lines up best with Catholic dogma?

Unless those answers point in different directions — and they almost never do — you know what Alito’s position is.


Here in the US, we’re running into a few supply chain problems, but it’s nothing compared to what’s going on in the UK, where there is plenty of gasoline at refineries and terminals, but very little getting into people’s cars. The bottleneck seems to have something to do with all the truck drivers from various EU countries who went home after Brexit took effect.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/aug/09/sketches-from-a-trying-year-10-cartoonists-reflect-on-2020

Germany had a close election last week, and everybody is just moving on without lawsuits or riots or anything. Weird, isn’t it?


Bright red Idaho is the latest state to refute Trump’s Big Lie. A document circulated by My-Pillow-guy Mike Lindell alleged votes were switched electronically from Trump to Biden in all 44 of Idaho’s counties, and listed county-by-county what the vote totals should have been. (Why anyone would bother to perpetrate this fraud remains a mystery, since it didn’t come close to flipping the state.)

Idaho officials immediately noticed that 7 of their counties don’t have electronic vote-counting at any stage in their process, describing this as “a huge red flag” in Lindell’s claim. So they recounted the two smallest counties by hand, and found exactly the same number of Biden votes as the original count. (Trump lost a few.)

When confronted with this complete refutation of his claim, Lindell did the same thing the Cyber Ninjas did in Arizona: moved the goalposts to say that the problem was with the ballots, not the counting. “The ballots themselves are not real people.”

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1005517/youre-out

In spite of his somewhat snide tone, Ross Douthat makes an interesting point. From a 20-year perspective, liberals have been quite successful: Bush-style military interventionism is no longer popular, the push to limit and privatize programs like Social Security was turned back and reversed, and alternatives to one-man-one-woman sexuality are now widely accepted.


Conservative rhetoric seems to be timeless. I ran across this quote in the book Freedom: an unruly history by Annelien de Dijn (which I will say more about after I finish it). Cato the Elder, speaking in 195 BC in favor of an anti-luxury law that the women of Rome wanted to see repealed (because it specially targeted women’s jewelry), warned against allowing women to have a voice in government:

The moment they begin to be your equals, they will be your superiors.

We still hear that point today from every overprivileged class, directed at every underprivileged class. Whether the subject is women, people of color, non-Christians, gays and lesbians, non-English speakers, transfolk, or what have you, the message is the same: There’s no such thing as equality. So if men, Whites, Christians et al. stop being the masters, they’ll become the slaves.

In spite of Cato’s efforts, the Lex Oppia was repealed. But Rome never did become a matriarchy. In more than two thousand years of testing, Cato’s they’ll-take-over theory has never proved out. And yet we still hear it.


Alex Jones has lost two lawsuits filed by parents of children who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones repeatedly charged on his popular InfoWars radio/YouTube show that the massacre was a “false flag operation”, and that the parents were “crisis actors” whose children did not die. In addition to causing the families emotional distress, Jones’ charges led some of his listeners to verbally abuse the parents or make threats against them.

Jones lost the lawsuits by default when he refused to cooperate with the court’s discovery process by providing documents, an action the judge described as “flagrant bad faith”. A jury will now determine the damages he owes the parents.

and let’s close with something musical

A commenter pointed out that last week’s closing wasn’t “recent” at all. The Helsinki complaint chorus video was posted in 2006, which I should have noticed. This week’s closing, “The Sounds of Starbucks” sounds like the result of a pandemic depression, but was posted in 2018.

Pandemics are beaten by communities, not individuals

https://www.gocomics.com/claybennett

We win by changing the statistics, not through an iron-clad personal defense.


Here’s what frustrates me most about the US struggle against Covid-19: the widespread attitude that rejects any partial solution, and instead demands a rock-solid personal guarantee. “If I do this and this and this, I’ll be OK.” And if that kind of assurance isn’t possible, then what’s the point?

Masks can’t offer that guarantee, unless you’re willing to walk around in a full hazmat suit. Distancing won’t do it unless you become a complete hermit. Vaccines allow breakthrough cases. Even the just-announced Merck treatment pill isn’t a complete cure: It claims to cut your risk of hospitalization in half, not eliminate it completely.

So what’s the point? No matter what I do, I’ll either catch the virus or I won’t. I’ll live or I’ll die.

The flip side of this binary attitude is a deep gullibility about snake-oil “cures”: I’m not worried about Covid, because I’ll just take hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin. Or maybe I’ll prevent it by gargling iodine or something. Some guy on YouTube claims that always works.

Or maybe I’ll deny the problem completely: There is no virus. The panics at ICUs in states with low vaccination rates are all staged by “crisis actors”. Really, it’s all about government forcing us to wear masks and get shots. If they can do that, the global dictatorship is at hand.

All of this makes me despair about my former profession. I used to be a mathematician. Apparently we’ve done a really bad job teaching people how to think statistically.

You see, fundamentally an epidemic is a numbers game.


Maybe you’ve seen TV episodes where a deadly disease gets loose until a heroic scientist intuits a miracle cure: Some chemical everybody has in the garage or under the sink turns out to be a perfect antidote to whatever-it-is. You swallow a teaspoon of baking soda or something, and you’ll be fine.

The reason TV writers go for a that kind of scenario is that they need to wrap things up by the end of the hour. But it’s hardly ever how things actually work.

Maybe you’ve noticed that there’s an outbreak of Ebola in Africa every few years. One spilled over into the US briefly during the Obama administration, but they happen every now and then. The latest one was in Guinea, and it was declared over in June.

There’s still no reliable cure for Ebola. [1] And there wasn’t a vaccine until 2019. But they beat back the outbreaks — including the 2014-2016 outbreak that made it to the US — anyway. Plagues of all sorts get controlled somehow, usually without a cure.

It’s a numbers game.


So let’s talk about numbers.

During a surge in new cases, you’ll hear a lot about exponential growth, where the number of new infections doubles every so-many days: I get sick. I infect two other people. Each of them infects two other people, and so on. Before long, the ICUs are full and bodies are stacking up in the morgues.

Fortunately, though, the same dynamics can also get you exponential decay, where the number of new cases gets cut in half every so-many days.

The difference between the two scenarios can be subtle. If every 10 infected people give the virus to 11 more, you’re on an exponential growth path. But if they only give it to 9, you’re in exponential decay. [2]

That’s how a community can beat a virus without a rock-solid method of prevention or cure. So sure, masks and distancing don’t guarantee you won’t pick up an infection. Vaccination doesn’t guarantee you’ll shake it off, or even that you won’t pass it on. But if those tactics just change the odds a little bit — get those 11 new infections down to 9 — the community will beat the pandemic rather than lose to it.

That’s how we win.


Now we run into the second problem: It isn’t just that people don’t understand how to think statistically, often they don’t want to. We don’t like to think of ourselves as drops in a statistical ocean, because we are individuals. [3] The evil of modern society was summed up more than half a century ago in “Secret Agent Man“:

They’ve given you a number and taken away your name.

Conservative rhetoric in particular is tuned for me-thinking rather than we-thinking. [4] But pandemics are fundamentally statistical — they’re waves that pass through an ocean — and we beat them by acting for the common good, even if we can’t get an individual guarantee.

It’s not that you aren’t an individual, but the individualism/collectivism thing is kind of like wave/particle duality in physics. You are an individual, while simultaneously being a drop in the ocean. Whether your individuality or your membership in the community is more important depends on what question is being asked.

Pandemics are ocean-level challenges: You can’t create one by yourself, and you can’t solve one either.


We also have a bias towards all-or-nothing thinking about risk. Instinctively, we don’t want to manage risk, we want to nuke it. [5] We want to tell ourselves “Bad things can’t happen because I’m doing this” rather than “I’ve shifted the odds in my favor.”

While that kind of thinking is natural, it’s also something to be overcome, because it either incapacitates us or pushes us into denial. Every time I get into my car I risk dying in a traffic accident. I could just refuse to go anywhere, or I could deny the risk via some kind of magical thinking about my exceptional driving ability or the power of my St. Christopher medal.

Instead, I do what I can to turn the odds in my favor: I wear a seat belt. I drive carefully, and avoid getting on the highway when I’m tired or influenced by drugs.

Probably you do something similar. We know how to manage risk. We just need to do it. And if enough of us do it well enough, exponential growth turns into exponential decay.



[1] The FDA approved its first Ebola treatment in 2020. In the trial, only 33% of the people who got the drug died, compared to 51% in the control group. That’s what success looks like.

[2] I know that 11/10 isn’t 2 and 9/10 isn’t 1/2. But the weird thing about exponentials is that all the curves you get from exponents over 1 look one way, and all the curves from exponents under 1 look another way. All that changes is the scale on the time axis. In other words, the value of “so-many” in “every so-many days” changes.

[3] Except for that one guy in Life of Brian.

[4] Perversely, though, it’s often the do-your-own-research crowd that is most influenced by group-think.

Today, being pro- or anti-vaccine has become essential to many people’s social identity during the pandemic. William Bernstein, a neurologist and author of The Delusions of Crowds, pointed me to the “moral foundations” theory, which attempts to understand what motivates the decision-making of people on the right and left ends of the political spectrum.

That theory holds that, within the American right, the concepts of loyalty and betrayal are more influential to their worldview than on the American left. Staying true to your group is a powerful pull for conservatives.

“For these folks, facts mean nothing; membership and identity, everything,” Bernstein said over email. “Groupishness, in-/out-group differentiation … is much stronger on the right.”

That’s why not-getting-vaccinated or not-wearing-a-mask can become such a point of principle that people will lose their jobs or even get violent rather than comply: It’s not just the inconvenience or the relatively minor risk; it’s betraying the group they feel loyal to.

[5] The scholarly name for this is “zero-risk bias“. If you ask people what they’d be willing to pay to eliminate some low-probability high-impact risk (like toxic waste contamination in their neighborhood or a radiation leak in a nearby nuclear power plant), you’ll get one number. But if you ask what they’d be willing to pay to cut that risk in half, you’ll get a number close to zero.

People don’t want risks to shrink. They want them to go away.

The Monday Morning Teaser

It’s been a week of good news and bad news. The government didn’t shut down, but the debt ceiling is still hanging overhead, threatening a self-inflicted disaster in about two weeks. Neither infrastructure bill passed by the deadline that had been set for it, but the deadlines got extended and negotiations continue. The 700,000th American died of Covid, but a promising new treatment got announced.

There is a certain amount of water in your glass. How do you feel about it?

The featured post this week is something I’ve been meaning to say for a while. My background in mathematics for once has some relevance to a major issue: Whether we beat the pandemic or not balances on the knife-edge difference between exponential growth and exponential decay. If every 10 infected people infect 11 more, we have exponential growth. If they infect 9, exponential decay. Once you grasp that, you see the importance of tactics that change the odds — like masks and vaccines — even if they don’t guarantee your individual well-being.

That post is called “Pandemics Are Beaten By Communities, Not Individuals”. It should be out between 9 and 10 EDT.

As for the weekly summary, the focus this week is on Congress, and we’re still in the situation I outlined last week: We all desperately want to know what’s going to happen, but we just don’t. For what little it’s worth, I remain optimistic. At least the government didn’t shut down.

Elsewhere: the Covid numbers continue to turn around. The vaccine mandates are working. Alex Jones is going to have to pay the Sandy Hook parents. And I enjoyed the new book about the Alamo. The summary should be out around noon.

Burdens and Duties

For any who remain insistent on an audit in order to satisfy the many people who believe that the election was stolen, I’d offer this perspective: No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters — particularly when the President will continue to say that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That’s the burden, that’s the duty of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost.

– Senator Mitt Romney (1-6-2021)

This week’s featured post is “The Big Lie Refuses to Die“.

This week everybody was talking about the $3.5 trillion question

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/924-mike-luckovich-tricky/UGKGYTXTUBFENOQKQMQ4HW6ZTI/

I’ve been resisting writing about the Democrats’ intra-party negotiations over the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that is supposed to supplement the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August.

While the issue is definitely important enough to deserve attention, the root of my resistance is that nobody really knows anything, and yet there is massive amounts of speculation about what might be happening. Maybe Joe Manchin is torpedoing the whole Biden agenda. Or maybe progressives are. Or maybe one side or the other is about to cave in. Maybe Biden is a legislative wizard who has it all under control, or maybe he’s an addled senior citizen in over his head.

It’s all speculation.

Here’s what little we know: The bipartisan bill passed the Senate in regular order, with enough Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. In terms of policy, the Democrats in the House agree that it ought to pass. But it leaves out a large number of progressive (and Biden) priorities. (The one that is most important to me is climate change.) So progressives in the House threaten not to pass the bipartisan bill if the Senate won’t pass the larger bill. No Senate Republicans support the larger bill, so it will have to pass through reconciliation (if at all), and all 50 Democrats are needed.

Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema have objected to the size of that bill, but so far have not made a counteroffer. Democratic moderates in the House had previously gotten Speaker Pelosi to commit to a vote on the bipartisan bill today, but that vote has been postponed to Thursday.

Midnight Thursday is the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, the annual witching hour when any shit not yet dealt with reaches the fan. So the government could shut down Friday, and the country might hit its debt limit shortly thereafter. In other words: a completely self-inflicted disaster of global significance.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe any of that will happen. I think Democrats will get something together, and two sizeable infrastructure bills will pass, with most of what all sides want included. The government will not shut down, and the debt limit will be pushed back to set up some future apocalypse. (We can’t just get rid of it, because …)

I believe this because I don’t think any Democrat in Congress benefits from sabotaging the whole Biden agenda and setting the party up for a massive 2022 defeat. I also don’t believe any of the Democrats — Manchin and Sinema included — are the kinds of loose cannons Republican leaders sometimes have to deal with. I’m also not afraid of Republicans getting some advantage out of the debt-limit battle. In the 2022 campaign, I don’t believe anybody will remember or care that this time around it was the Democrats who pushed back the limit without Republican help. (I also don’t believe voters will punish Republicans for their irresponsibility, although they should.)

As I said previously, though, I don’t know. Maybe I’m too optimistic. But I’m heartened by the account in Peril of the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March. Manchin also had problems with that, and negotiations went down to the wire. But he ultimately voted for it. The picture Woodward and Costa paint is that Manchin has to maintain his moderate image in West Virginia and separate himself from liberals like Bernie Sanders and AOC, but that he also doesn’t want to be the guy who causes Biden’s presidency to fail.

I’m not counting on Biden to be an LBJ-style wheeler-dealer, but I think he will keep all the Democrats calm enough to recognize that failure benefits none of them.


Josh Marshall points out a piece of journalistic malpractice: Progressives and moderates are often presented as rival-but-equivalent factions fighting for their rival-but-equivalent proposals, when actually Democrats are pretty much united except for Manchin, Sinema, and a handful of folks in the House.

What Manchin et al are having trouble swallowing isn’t Bernie Sanders’ bill. (Sanders, if you remember, wanted a $6 trillion package.) It’s President Biden’s bill.

and the Arizona election audit

That’s the subject of the featured post. Short version of the report written by Trumpist Cyber Ninjas: The ballots were counted accurately. But Biden won, so there must be something wrong with the ballots themselves.

and Haitian immigrants

The images of men on horseback chasing down dark-skinned people, and of 14,000 immigrants camped under the Del Rio Bridge in Texas have sparked intense reactions from both the pro- and anti-immigration factions.

The current wave was started by a major earthquake in August, but Haitians have been trying to enter the US for one reason or another for a long time. And one US administration after another has been trying to keep them out. Vox has a worthwhile article about the unique aspects of our Haitian immigration policies.

and Peril

The book Peril (that last week’s post “Seven Days in January” was indirectly based on) came out Tuesday, and I rushed to read it. I didn’t find any major surprises: The incidents discussed in the pre-publication articles are pretty much the way they’ve been described.

Woodward and Costa leave readers to guess who the source is for each scene. In general, if the book tells us what somebody was thinking at the time, you have to assume that person is the source for the whole incident (though possibly various other people were also consulted). If the book follows one character through a series of scenes, I assume that person is the source. (In the case of somebody like Mike Pence, I suppose it’s possible that a right-hand-man is the source. But even then, I doubt that person would talk in such detail without the approval of his former boss.) If one person seems reasonable and everyone else in the room is crazy, probably we’re hearing the account of the reasonable person. (I know I describe a lot of my experiences that way.)

General Milley is pretty obviously the source for the incidents that involve him. Senators Mike Lee and Lindsey Graham are clearly sources. Pence’s national security advisor Keith Kellogg was a source, and probably Pence himself. (Kellogg apparently roamed the White House pretty freely.) A bunch of people in the Biden campaign. And so on.

The closer you get to Trump himself, the fuzzier the sourcing gets, as if sources asked for more protection. Ivanka and Jared? Mark Meadows? Hard to say. Unless you believe that Woodward and Costa made stuff up out of nothing (and I don’t), it’s clear somebody talked.

A phone conversation that Milley had with Speaker Pelosi after January 6 occurs early in the book and got a lot of press. When you read it in the full context of the book, the striking thing isn’t that Milley and Pelosi both think Trump is crazy. The striking thing is how they talk about his instability. You could imagine people around Trump coming to the shocking insight that the President is dangerously unmoored. But this conversation is nothing like that. It’s more like: We always knew he was crazy, but we had hoped he was manageable.

As the book goes on, it’s appalling how many people had such conversations. I’m left with the impression that no one with a chance to view Trump close up was actually surprised that he would start raving about imaginary election-stealing conspiracies, or that he would try to bring down American democracy rather than give up power. They had hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but they weren’t actually surprised.

Lots of Republicans appear to have known, earlier or later in the process, that the election-fraud claims were bogus. Their silence is stunning. Even the ones who spoke up at one time or another have mostly shut up about it.

The lack of concern for the country is horrifying. Mitch McConnell had two chances to get rid of Trump through impeachment, and protected him both times. To this day, Republicans who know what he really is are going along with him.

and the pandemic

Once again, new-case numbers seem to be topping out, but the turn-around is slow. The seven-day average is 120K per day, down from a recent peak of 175K on September 13. Hospitalizations have also turned around nationally, though they’re still surging in some areas. Deaths are holding steady at just over 2000 per day.

Hospitals in Idaho and Alaska have instituted “crisis standards of care“, which is a fancy way of saying that they’re so swamped they can’t get to everybody.

Alaska this past week joined Idaho in adopting statewide crisis standards of care that provide guidance to health care providers making difficult decisions on how to allocate limited resources. Several hospitals in Montana have either activated crisis standards of care or are considering it as the state is pummeled by COVID-19.

Under the guidelines, providers can prioritize treating patients based on their chances of recovery, impacting anyone seeking emergency care, not just those with COVID-19. …

Typically, crisis standards of care involve a scoring system to determine the patient’s survivability, sometimes including their estimated “life years” and how well their organs are working.

Back in 2009, Republicans fighting ObamaCare warned about “death panels” that might decide old people weren’t worth saving. That didn’t happen then, but vaccine resistance is causing it to happen now.


Vaccine mandates are being tested this week, as deadlines are looming in New York and some other states. Thousands of health-care and nursing-home workers are pushing to the limit: New York says they have until midnight tonight to get vaccinated, or they’ll lose their jobs. If they hold out and are let go, care might suffer in some places. But if they remain unvaccinated and keep their jobs, care suffers in a different way.

you also might be interested in …

Germany’s 16-year Angela Merkel era ended yesterday with a federal election in which she was not a candidate. The Social Democrats appear to have won the most seats in the Bundestag, surpassing Merkel’s Christian Democrats. No party has a majority, though, so a coalition will have to be negotiated.

Among the minor parties, the Greens gained seats and the right-wing nationalist Alliance for Germany lost some.


More dramatic stories about infrastructure and debt-ceiling negotiations have drawn attention away from the collapse of negotiations over police reform. The House has already passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but police reform is yet another casualty of the filibuster in the Senate.


Right-wing Congresswoman Lauren Boebert used campaign funds to pay rent and utilities, a violation of the law. Will something be done? It’s not clear yet.


A former Washington Post arts editor returned to her roots in rural Illinois, and moved into what she remembers as her grandmother’s house in Kinderhook. It’s been challenging to live in Trump country, where only 23% are vaccinated.

My family might go back four generations here, but we are outsiders. We are the “them.”

and let’s close with something musical

A recent trend on YouTube is for choirs around the world to set local complaints to music. Here is the Helsinki Complaints Choir.