The Present Darkness

The dark days are not “coming”. The dark days are here.

– Rachel Maddow (2-21-2020)

This week’s featured posts are “What’s Wrong With a Decision-Making Convention?” and “Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy“.

This week everybody was talking about the Justice Department

I covered this in “Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy“.

and Bernie Sanders as front-runner

Sanders’ win in the Nevada caucuses was impressive. He was a clear winner among Latino voters, a demographic that wasn’t behind him in 2016. Sanders is now the clear front-runner, partly due to his own strength and partly due to the fracturing of his opposition. Even if you wanted to vote for the stop-Bernie candidate (and from my comment stream, I can tell that a lot of you don’t), who would that be?

Now that I’m a Massachusetts voter, I have to make my choice on March 3. I’m still undecided, but I promise to explain my thinking next week, the day before I vote.

Right now I’m wondering if I’ve given Bernie a fair shake. I’ve been rooting against him, and I’m not sure whether that’s for justifiable reasons, or whether it’s because I’m still annoyed from 2016. In 2016, I was part of his big majority in the New Hampshire primary, but I was voting more to send a message to Hillary than because I seriously intended to make Bernie president. As the campaign wore on, I came to regret that vote.

Unlike some people who voted for Hillary against Trump, I don’t fault Bernie for not campaigning harder for her in the fall. I think he did as much as could have been reasonably expected. But I thought a lot of his late-primary-campaign criticism of Hillary was unfair, that it continued well past the point where he had a chance to win, and that it set up Trump’s “crooked Hillary” rhetoric. It was irresponsible, and he should have known better.

That said, this is one of those situations where turnabout is not fair play. As Bernie becomes the front-runner, I think we all should bear in mind that he may well become the nominee. And while I’m all for every candidate’s and every voter’s right to criticize, I think we need to try very hard to criticize fairly. For example, I think it’s fine to say that Bernie should release his medical records, or to ask how his plans will be paid for, or how he will get them through Congress. But I don’t think it’s fair to call him a “communist” or to lie about what his healthcare plan will do. Trump will want to do that in the fall, if Bernie is nominated, and his rhetoric will sound more convincing if it can be prefaced with “Even Democrats say …”

On electability, I don’t know what to think. Polls consistently show Sanders running as well or better against Trump than the other Democrats do — worse than Biden in some polls, but never by much. At the same time, I have yet to meet a Republican who’s afraid of facing Bernie in the fall. Many of them are actively rooting for him, including (it seems) Trump. Maybe they’re just stupid, or maybe they have some insight.

and the continuing spread of the Chinese virus

It’s now known as COVID-19. Outbreaks are now happening in Italy and South Korea, which might imply that they will eventually happen everywhere.

Even so, try to maintain some perspective. Staying away from Chinese restaurants is not going to make you safer.

but you should pay more attention to Trump’s acting DNI

I also discussed this in “Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy“. Few things are could be worse than a Director of National Intelligence who tells the CIA what the President wants to hear them say, rather than tells the President what the best experts think is true.

and you also might be interested in …

As I write this morning, the stock market is plunging. The Dow is about 1300 points below the peak it hit a week or two ago. I don’t think the fall is Trump’s fault any more than the rise was, but if you live by the sword you die by the sword.

I don’t know how good her chances are, but I’ve got to root for Amy McGrath to beat Mitch McConnell. This online ad is from last summer, but it’s still worth looking at.

Remember the original justification for the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani? Supposedly it prevented one or more “imminent attacks“.

Well, never mind. The White House has sent Congress its official explanation for the raid, and the imminent-attack justification has vanished. Now the purpose of the assassination was to “deter future attacks”.

Without the threat of an imminent attack, there was no reason the administration couldn’t have consulted Congress, as envisioned in the War Powers Act. Instead, the report makes the argument that Congress intended the pre-Iraq-invasion Authorization for the Use of Military Force to include Iran, which is patently absurd.

In short, the Soleimani attack was an illegal assassination, and the President’s initial explanation of it was a lie.

Researchers at Scripps Oceanography Institute offer some good news on climate change: One of the tipping-point disaster scenarios is less likely than previously thought.

A long-feared scenario in which global warming causes Arctic permafrost to melt and release enough greenhouse gas to accelerate warming and cause catastrophe probably won’t happen.

and let’s close with something ambiguous

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who a satirist is satirizing. ABC News reported:

Pigeons wearing MAGA hats and Donald Trump wigs have been released by a shadowy protest group calling themselves P.U.T.I.N. – Pigeons United to Interfere Now — across the city of Las Vegas, Nevada

When I saw that, my first thought (after some concern about the pigeons) was “What a clever protest against Trump!” Plainly, the stunt casts MAGA-hatters as pigeons — stupid and gullible. When I heard the group was calling itself PUTIN, that cinched it.

But apparently not, at least if the Las Vegas Review-Journal has it right.

The pigeon release was done as an “aerial protest piece in response to the arrival of the 2020 Democratic debate,” the group said. Six Democratic presidential candidates will debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

“The release date was also coordinated to serve as a gesture of support and loyalty to President Trump,” said a group member who goes by the alias Coo Hand Luke.

Or maybe Coo Hand Luke is spoofing the local reporter, pretending to be precisely the kind pigeon-like Trumpist the birds represent. Or not. Maybe the satire is too subtle for any of us to grasp.

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  • jooyous  On February 24, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    ^ Do you need more details than this?

  • zahra  On February 24, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    1) I wonder if it does more harm than good to refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” While it is true that the virus originated in China, shouldn’t we be careful when we call a virus Chinese because doing so could unnecessarily fuel anti-Chinese bias?

    2) Running for president entails sacrificing certain elements of privacy including – but not limited to –financial and health records. And you say it would be fine to expect Bernie Sanders to release his medical records. Could you please elaborate on this line of reasoning and how advocating for such a standard (expecting presidential candidates to release their medical records) serves the country? The public should see financial records which could show evidence of corruption. However, the public would need an extraordinarily compelling reason to request someone’s health records for what is effectively a job application (the job being president).

    If a president’s health status prevents them from fulfilling their duties, there are legal remedies – e.g., the Twenty-fifth Amendment and Congress’s subpoena power – in place that would make publicizing their medical records before such an incapacitating event even occurs gratuitous. I believe it may be likely that the health privacy interests at play outweigh transparency interests in this situation but I would like to hear an alternative perspective.

    • weeklysift  On February 24, 2020 at 3:39 pm

      When a 78-year-old runs for one of the world’s most stressful jobs, has a heart attack during the campaign, and then is cagey about what information he’ll release, I think that’s a problem.

      • zahra  On February 25, 2020 at 9:35 am

        That’s interesting. Could you please say more about why it might be appropriate for the public to have access to a politician’s medical records in the first place? Are you implying that a having a known condition that does not necessarily incapacitate (such as being at high risk for cardiovascular disease) can nevertheless render one’s candidacy nonviable? Could you also describe what elements of the medical record you’re most interested in seeing and what limiting principle would be involved in this disclosure process? Today medical records could include one’s family, mental health, surgical, medication, sexual, and reproductive health histories and possibly one’s genome. Does the pubic need to see all this?

  • Peggy Duesenberry  On February 24, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Hi Doug, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of opinion pieces warning that, if nominated, Bernie couldn’t possibly convince “swing” voters to vote for him in the general election. They always define “swing voters” as being happy to vote either Dem or GOP. They ignore voters who swing between not voting and voting. I’ve recently started looking carefully at the authors’ bios for these articles, and a lot seem to be former advisers to GOP politicians. In other words, Republican elders are trying to convince Democrats to nominate a conservative. I’ve begun to wonder how long this has been going on, and if it’s part of a calculated and long term effort by the GOP to pull the Democratic Party rightward. If so, it’s been staggeringly successful.
    In my view, it’s time to resist that rightward shift if we want to tackle the great problems of our time. Climate change won’t stop killing people if we go for an incrementalist nominee. Healthcare costs won’t come down, nor will wealth inequality.

    • weeklysift  On February 24, 2020 at 3:32 pm

      Peggy, I’m thinking of the 2018 election results, where more conservative Democrats really did flip Republican seats. I know of no example of the progressive victory model, where a progressive candidate flipped a Republican seat by stimulating turnout.

      The best Democratic results happen in what I call the Obama model, where a candidate simultaneously excites turnout and draws moderates. For example, that’s how Doug Jones won in Alabama.

      • Guest  On February 25, 2020 at 11:09 am

        We agree 100%, Peggy, and so do the polling data. The (tragic?) irony of Doug’s stance here is that the winning Obama campaign model *was* progressive. Yes, he ended up governing as a shift-rightward centrist, but the 2008 cycle in particular saw the campaign of an unabashedly anti-war, progressive Washington outsider more interested in hope and change that the status quo.

        In a way, Sanders is a fulfillment of that 2008 Obama campaign spirit, so it’s hard to see sometimes, as a Sanders fan, why folks like Doug are hesitant to jump on board. The only treatment of this odd dynamic, well worth a look if you share this curiosity, was Seth Ackerman’s “The Cosmic Irony of Bernie Sanders’s Rise” in Jacobin last week.

  • Guest  On February 24, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    “On electability, I don’t know what to think. Polls consistently show Sanders running as well or better against Trump than the other Democrats”

    Please, Doug, for the love of Unitarian Christ, please put more weight in these polls than we collectively did last time.

    “I have yet to meet a Republican who’s afraid of facing Bernie”

    The secret Lev Parnas tapes revealed Trump himself didn’t want to face Sanders, even as a VP, because he would undercut his working class disaffected vote. “Had (Clinton) picked Bernie Sanders it would’ve been tougher. He’s the only one I didn’t want her to pick”. Not hard to see why. The Reuters/Ipsos poll from a couple weeks back showed Bernie with an 18 point lead over Trump among independent voters over, the largest such lead of any other candidate. That’s a trend that goes back to 2016. I know several Trump apologists who either would have voted for Sanders in 2016 in the general, or will be voting for him this year. Those folks have less than zero interest in the other Dems.

  • Camilla Cracchiolo  On February 24, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    I dunno about medical records. The stuff related to his heart and general health should be released. But what if he has an enlarged but benign prostate like most men his age do? I can just see TV comedians making all kinds of fun about it. It’s nobody else’s business.

  • Martha Legare  On February 24, 2020 at 7:15 pm

    Martha Legare M: +1.404.815.7766


  • Thomas Paine  On February 26, 2020 at 11:03 am

    When turnout is high, Democrats win. When turnout is normal-to-low, Republicans do.

    What drives high turnout? A candidate who inspires those who don’t normally participate in politics to do so. That’s why the typical, safe candidates like Gore, Kerry, and the particularly noxious HRC all struggled to overcome the structure and Republican voter suppression that define presidential elections.

    Who is the one Democratic candidate since Clinton who succeeded? The only one to inspire increased participation: Obama. Who is the one Democratic candidate this cycle who inspires typical non-voters to participate? Bernie Sanders, who has the overwhelming support of the future of this country, the under 40 person, a cohort that has had to bear the effects of 40 years of the neoliberalism that has Wal-Marted America.

    The people who support candidates like Joe Biden are going to vote no matter who the nominee is. And, given the disgust with Donny Corruption and the general feeling that he must be removed by the last check our government provides regardless of who that person is, he might he even win.

    But if the goal is to energize the electorate and increase turnout, not only for the top of the ticket but for the down-ballot races as well, where votes will be needed to turn the Senate (stop looking at the results from gerrymandered House districts as some sort of guidepost) as well, then the candidate – the only candidate – who can provide such energy and passion is Bernie Sanders.

    Yes, the corporate plutocracy that owns our country now is seriously worried that its unquestioned control might suffer a bit during a Sanders administration. Why, the DINOsauers on MSNBC have made it their mission to convince the proletariat that his nomination means the destruction of everything we’ve ever known. Chris Matthews has gone so far as to claim that a Sanders presidency will mean executions in Central Park.

    I fully expect the Third-Way, beltway-insider, big-money-is-all-that-matters DNC to use the Superdelegates and its access to corporate bribes, er, contributions, to deny Sanders the nomination and instead put forward yet another bland Republican-lite who only stands for not being as batshit crazy as the fascists of Cult 45 who have hijacked the GOP. And that person will struggle to overcome the hate and vitriol and lies Donny Corruption will employ, this time with money and a campaign that actually knows what it’s doing.

    So, just like in 2016, Democrats can either nominate the person best positioned to defeat Trump (with the polling to back it up), or the DNC can once again make the election close enough to go Trump’s way regardless of the raw vote totals. My bet is on the latter, because if there’s one thing Democrats do well, it’s lose.

    • Guest  On February 26, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Thank you, Thomas! I cosign on everything here, especially your first five paragraphs. On the back half, I’d only add the caveat that I can see some reasons be more hopeful than cynical this time around. Nevada finally made the insiders peek outside their Beltway bubble. Pelosi and Schumer have both recently signaled they would be comfortable with Sanders at the top of the ticket, Ted Lieu as well. It seems they are allowing themselves to see the writing on the wall.

      MSNBC has been awful on Sanders for a long time, but even there things are changing slightly post-Nevada. Chris Matthews gave a decent on-air apology to Sanders and his supporters, but before that, did you see Anand Giridharadas on MSNBC on Sunday? It was amazing, given the company’s track record. He called out establishment apologists attacking Sanders as “out-of-touch aristocrats in a dying aristocracy.” Wow. Of Sanders he said “You have someone talking about, in a way we have not heard, genuine deeper democracy, popular movements, human equality in a meaningful way, and a politics of love in the tradition of Dr. King – and winning elections.” Sign me up.

  • forthemiddleclass  On March 1, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    One of the metrics I’m looking at is the all-important Rust Belt swing states (MI, WI, PA). Those three states specifically will be key to winning in the General. Things could change between now and election day, but as of TODAY, Sanders is doing better than BIden in all those states (Sanders has a total of +7.3 points over Trump and Biden is at +6.5). When we talk about “electability” I think we should be talking about who can win the swing states over Trump and the best metric we have for that is through polling.

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