Conquest and Ruin

The election was a necessity. We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.

Abraham Lincoln, 11-10-1864, two days after his re-election

This week’s featured post is “The Election: Worry or Don’t Worry?“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s threat to the election

At 8:30 Thursday morning, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its 2nd quarter GDP report, showing the economy contracting at a record pace. Sixteen minutes later, Trump tweeted:

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

Coincidence? Of course not. Again and again, Trump has shown that he would rather have us talking about some outrageous thing he said than about his failures in the real world.

And notice, of course, that Trump presents no plan for making things better. No plan for controlling the virus so that in-person voting will be safer, no safeguards to make mail-in voting more secure. No suggestion of when or how people could “properly, securely, and safely vote”. The tweet is just pure disruption: undermine faith in what is going to happen, without offering any viable alternative.

Republicans in Congress tried to stay clear of this authoritarian overreach, but for the most part they didn’t condemn it either. “I think delaying the election probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” Lindsey Graham said. And Mitch McConnell commented:

Never in the history of the Congress, through wars, depressions and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3.

To me, their message to Trump sounded more like “If you want to disrupt the election, leave me out of it” than “Don’t you dare.” I would have liked an elected Republican to react more like Federalist Society founder Steven Calabresi:

I am frankly appalled by the president’s recent tweet seeking to postpone the November election. Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate. … President Trump needs to be told by every Republican in Congress that he cannot postpone the federal election. Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional and without precedent in American history. Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again.

and the yuge GDP drop

OK, back to the GDP. The BEA report began:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020

That 32.9% number was all over the media coverage of the report, but it’s a crazy way to look at it. Nothing real fell by 32.9% in the 2nd quarter. NPR explains:

GDP swings are typically reported at an annual rate — as if they were to continue for a full year — which can be misleading in a volatile period like this. The overall economy in the second quarter was 9.5% smaller than during the same period a year ago.

To bring this idea home, imagine that you buy a $20,000 car today. So today you are spending at an annual rate of $7.3 million. But nothing in your box of receipts will ever add up to $7.3 million, because you’re not going to buy a $20,000 car every day for a year.

All the same, though, what really happened is bad enough: In the 2nd quarter the economy was 9.5% smaller than it was the year before. In the whole history of quarterly GDP reports, there has never been one this bad. What this proves is that we’re not having the “V-shaped recovery” that Trump has been predicting. People are still hurting, and jobs are hard to find. When Republicans in Congress went along with Democrats on the CARES Act in March, most of them were imagining that we’d be over the hump by now and well on our way back to normal.

Well, we’re not. And Republicans have no idea what to do about it.

The White House’s strategy in the negotiations has shifted multiple times in the past few weeks. Democrats passed a $3 trillion package in May that included an extension of unemployment benefits, new stimulus checks, aid for states and localities, and various other programs. The White House expressed opposition to that bill but did not begin negotiations with Democrats until recently. It also took the White House much longer than expected to broker a unified Republican proposal with the Senate GOP after blowback on several of the White House’s ideas.

One special crisis: The federal eviction ban has lapsed, and estimates say Americans owe $21.5 billion in back rent. “In July alone, 21% of renters paid no rent, according to research firm Apartment List.” Expect a wave of evictions, followed by an increase in homelessness. It’s got to be much harder to protect yourself against Covid-19 if you’re homeless, so this will directly affect the spread of the virus.

Trump and McConnell have been acting like they have all the time they want to figure this out. They don’t. Bad stuff is already happening, and more is going to happen every day they delay.

Renters are just the first domino. If they can’t pay, then landlords won’t be able to pay their mortgages. And then banks will be insolvent, and we’ll be in a credit crunch.

One odd wrinkle in the politics of this is that it’s not clear who McConnell speaks for. Lindsey Graham has claimed that “Half the Republicans are going to vote no on any Phase 4 package.” And Ron Johnson says: “I don’t want to see any new authorization of money.”

On the surface this looks weird, because the economic disaster these Republicans are courting is going to hurt Trump’s re-election campaign.

What’s going on here is that senators who aren’t running this year are looking down the road, and already assuming a Trump loss in the fall. After the George W. Bush administration ended in disaster, Republicans quickly disavowed Bush and claimed that he was never really a conservative. The Tea Party movement of 2009 took aim at all the Republicans who went along with Bush on the $700 billion TARP bail-out bill in October of 2008.

Senators like Johnson and Ben Sasse are foreseeing a similar rebranding trick after Trump is gone. And they sense that Republicans who vote for a new stimulus now will be vulnerable once Biden is president and deficits become anathema again.

Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute makes a good point about statistics: The bad 2nd-quarter numbers set the stage for 3rd-quarter numbers that will sound good, even if they’re not.

Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate that the June GDP is over five percentage points larger than the average in April, May, and June. So even if the economy does not grow at all in July, August and September, the third quarter is already set to outperform the second by a wide margin.

When a trillion dollars is going out the door, Trump just can’t resist wetting his beak a little. His proposed plan includes money to remodel the FBI building near the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The original plan had the FBI headquarters moving to cheaper quarters in the suburbs, but then the D.C. site might be available for some competing hotel. Trump really doesn’t want that to happen.

His plan also includes a bigger tax break for business restaurant spending — another boost for Trump properties.

and the virus

The death rate continues to rise. The current  7-day moving average is 1,226 deaths a day.

The news continues to be bad for anyone hoping schools will reopen safely.

Central Junior High in Greenfield, Indiana couldn’t get through its first day without an incident.

Just hours into the first day of classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student who had walked the halls and sat in various classrooms had tested positive for the coronavirus. Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days.

A New York Times analysis found that in many districts in the Sun Belt, at least 10 people infected with the coronavirus would be expected to arrive at a school of about 500 students and staff members during the first week if it reopened today.

A major outbreak happened at a Georgia YMCA camp.

A CDC report released Friday reveals that hundreds of campers at a north Georgia YMCA camp were infected with coronavirus in just days before the camp was shut down. … According to the report, of the 597 residents who attended the camp, 344 were tested and 260 tested positive for the virus. The camp was only open for four days before being shut down because of the virus, and officials followed all recommended safety protocols. …

The CDC said that what happened at High Harbor shows that earlier thinking that children might not be as susceptible to COVID-19 is wrong. According to the report, the age group with the most positive coronavirus tests was 6 – 10 years old.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain died Thursday of complications from Covid-19. For a brief time in the 2012 cycle, as the slice of the Republican Party that would eventually become the Trump personality cult struggled against Mitt Romney, Cain was the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

With the virus being so ubiquitous, it’s impossible to be confident in any contact-tracing. But Cain went to Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, where (like just about everybody else) he didn’t wear a mask. He tested positive on June 29. (I haven’t been able to determine whether that was when the test was given or the result reported.) He was hospitalized on July 1, and died July 30.

Trump began his July 30 briefing by blaming Cain’s death on “the China virus”. As usual, he takes no responsibility.

Here’s the ad Trump should run:


and John Lewis’ funeral

The funeral was held Thursday.

The presidential eulogies — delivered by every living president but one who is 95 and one who couldn’t be bothered to show up — were not to be missed: Barack Obama (text, video), Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush. Bush was never known for his eloquence, or for his camaraderie with the civil rights movement, but his speech embodied a basic decency that has not been seen in the White House since the current president arrived.

and you also might be interested in …

The federal storm troopers left Portland, and the situation calmed down almost immediately. It’s almost like the feds never intended to preserve peace and order.

One of the demonstrators described the evolution of the protests like this:

We came out here in t-shirts and with hula-hoops and stuff, and they started gassing us. So we came back with respirators, and they started shooting us. So we came back with vests, and they started aiming for the head. So we started wearing helmets. And now they call us terrorists. Who’s escalating this? It’s not us.

The retail bankruptcies continue: Lord and Taylor, Men’s Wearhouse.

Fascinating tweet-storm in which an ER doctor talks about a surgery patient who was refusing a Covid-19 test, and so couldn’t be operated on. It’s a story of the kind of compassionate interaction we all wish we could receive or were capable of giving others. The doctor listened, reassured, provided factual context, and got the patient’s consent.

In a Fox News interview on July 19, Trump told Chris Wallace:

We’re signing a health-care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health-care plan.

Two weeks was up yesterday, and guess what? Nothing.

Trump usually expects nobody to be paying attention after two weeks, so “in two weeks” usually means “never”. (Remember the news conference where Melania was going to produce all her citizenship documentation, proving that “She came in totally legally.”? During the 2016 campaign he said that would happen “in a few weeks”. It still hasn’t.) But the Washington Post kept track this time, and published an article about all the other times Trump has promised a health-care plan.

In June 2019, Trump said in an interview with ABC News that he would announce a “phenomenal” new health-care plan “in about two months, maybe less.”

Two months later, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the president was preparing to introduce an elaborate plan to redesign the nation’s health-care system in a speech the following month. “We’re working every single day here,” Conway said last August. “I’ve already been in meetings this morning on the president’s health-care plan. It’s pretty impressive.”

No speech or plan came.

and let’s close with some great video-editing

Nike … well, they’re a big corporation, and they’ve got some problems. But credit where it’s due: If you want to make the case that people are people and sport is sport, you can’t do a lot better than this video. I wonder how much tape they had to watch to find images that fit together this well.

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  • Anonymous  On August 4, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    On the subject of elections:
    Ranked Choice Voting will be on the ballot in Massachusetts in November. It’s been in use in Maine for a couple of years. If it passes in Massachusetts, the state will start using it for elections in 2022.

    More info:
    Yes on 2

    • jh  On August 6, 2020 at 11:15 am

      We need more than that. We also need some system that removes the effect of gerrymandering. It doesn’t matter how many “liberal” candidates you put in the RCV system if your vote isn’t counted equal to a rural white’s votes in your state. That’s why I advocate for a popular vote system. If the popular vote also selected the winning candidate, it is probably the will of the people. Because the reality is that Democrats need to win by a significant majority to earn a seat.
      I also advocate that if we are weighting votes, we should weight them by economic value. After all, the republican mantra is “makers, not takers”. So we should use that reasoning and say that those areas that produce more economic activity should have more say. (Again, I’m sure American farmers love their tokenized image as “pure American”, but in my heart, I weep for Sears. Sears and industry is what is the most American characteristic. This country has always been in the business of business. From slavery to bananas to guns.. it’s all a business. Farmers, like coal miners, are just valued because they are mostly white poor who can be guaranteed to vote republican if it means that the black person is hurting more. )

      Personally, I think we need to stop recognizing illegitimately elected officials. After all, if it is a democracy, surely it should represent the people’s choice. If it is a republic, it’s representatives should represent the real people’s choice. I thought the US had a representative government…. as in the will of the people. So why is it that minority white conservatives have so much say in how our government operates and functions?

      (And while I’m definitely against the electoral college because it is antithetical to a democracy and any sort of union in a collection of states, I recognize that it won’t be easily removed. Think of it this way, the red states have recognized they have the power to radicalize their base, cheat the popular will to earn illegitimately elected positions of power that, in turn have the power to influence federal judiciaries including who gets nominated or appointed to SCOTUS AND these same thieves have the power of the purse which means they will STEAL from hard working liberals in blue states at every single point. And why? Because those red states don’t think that blue states are real Americans. Those red state moochers want to steal our resources just like they raped and stole resources from other groups. They may say “I’m a good person. I would never steal”. But by electing thieves to steal for their benefit, they are authorizing the illegitimate theft of resources that belong to blue areas of the country. To put it simply, if a person calls themselves a republican or a conservative, it is the equivalent of acknowledging membership into a gang, a mafia, a cartel, a yakuza or any other criminal organization. If republican voters truly practiced what they believed, they wouldn’t vote republicans who steal other people’s money. and as for liberals, we all need to start calling them out for their theft rather than assuming that conservatives are misguided. They are not misguided. They are corrupt and evil.)

      One more feature, and it must be rolled out simultaneously to all states. Proportional votes. That means that if a state has 10 “electoral college” votes up, if 30% of the population voted Democrat and 60% voted Republican and 10% voted Green”, then the states will give the corresponding votes to specific candidates. In my example, 3 votes would go to the democrat. 6 would go to the republican. This is a far more fairer way that would counter the removal of the electoral college because you would be forced to make the case of why you should be POTUS in all 50 states.

      And my personal dream… we send a form to every single resident who lives in a blue state and show them exactly how much money is taken from their taxes and sent to other states. Explain why they pay such high taxes so that blue state liberals get angry at conservative criminals. We need a program that informs people of exactly how badly red states are in terms of economic development. I want to hear why a Kansas senator has a right to talk about the economy when they need other states’ money to survive. Because right now, conservatives think that they are the ones who are the makers and that is counter to reality. We need to highlight the voices of successful people with real achievements and minimize the voices of losers who think magical thoughts and nonsense like loser conservatives.

      (And didn’t everyone realize that the pandemic response would be nasty ages ago? We have a delusional Trump. But worse, he put Pence on the covid19 response team. The last time Pence had that kind of power, there was an AIDS outbreak in Indiana. Conservatives are plague enablers. The human race would go extinct if too many conservatives have power. After all, there are only so many virgins you can sacrifice to the volcano god. – yes, Christianity is a volcano god religion. It sacrifices people all the time. Especially the conservative christianity version. Conservatives love to sacrifice humans to their volcano gods.)

      • Anonymous  On August 6, 2020 at 5:12 pm

        Well, if any of that is on the ballot someplace, let us know. What’s on the ballot this November in Massachusetts is Ranked Choice Voting.

  • orionblair  On August 5, 2020 at 12:18 am

    every living president but the one who couldn’t be bothered to show up: why was President Carter not present? Is he too ill?

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