Behind Our Masks

Today I find the mask useful

along with sunglasses

to hide my tear streaked face,

not wanting to scare the barista

who has enough to deal with

behind his own mask.


– “Transitions” by Tammi Truax,
poet laureate of Portsmouth, NH

This week’s featured posts are “The NRA and the Long Con” and “Those Executive Orders“.

This week everybody was talking about executive orders

Saturday, Trump responded to the impasse in negotiations to extend provisions of the CARES Act by signing an executive order and three memoranda. He claimed they provide all sorts of relief to people economically stressed by the Covid-19 epidemic, especially the unemployed and those facing eviction. However, as one featured post points out, what the orders actually accomplish is much less than Trump claims, and yet they still threaten the constitutional order.

and the NRA

The other featured post discusses the legal problems of the National Rifle Association, which is threatened with dissolution by the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit. (The article uses that example to segue into a discussion of the conservative vulnerability to scams and con artists.) Basically, the NYAG claims that the NRA has become more about Wayne LaPierre’s luxurious lifestyle than about the Second Amendment, and that the corruption enabling this abuse is so pervasive and so top-to-bottom that no solution is possible that leaves the NRA intact.

The Washington Post satirist Alexandra Petri takes that first point and runs with it, suggesting a fund-raising letter for people who have never given to the NRA before.

We bet that what’s been holding you back all this time is the belief that if you donated to the NRA, it would help put more guns in more places and that such a goal, in your opinion, would make the United States a more dangerous place. Well, we urge you to take a second look and ask: Is that really what the NRA is doing?

A misconception that a lot of people have about the NRA is that we are some sort of gun lobby, trying to put guns into and keep them in the (cold, dead) hands of as many people as possible. But as allegations in a recent lawsuit demonstrate, the NRA is about so much more than that. We are also about subsidizing the personal travel of CEO Wayne LaPierre, his family members and a few trusted affiliates! We’re not just a gun lobby whose annual convention did not take place this year and which seems as though it hasn’t been very active around the coming election. We also believe in the power of travel, and the need to support America’s small-ship owners, or large-yacht owners, depending on your perspective.

An obvious question I didn’t get around to answering in the featured post  is why these are civil lawsuits rather than criminal indictments. The answer has to do with jurisdiction. In the Daily Beast, former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade (who appears fairly ofteny on Rachel Maddow’s show) wrote:

this easily could have been framed as a criminal case. Filing false registration and disclosure documents as part of a scheme to defraud can serve as the basis for federal mail or wire fraud, and often does in public corruption cases.

Her article strongly implies that criminal jurisdiction here belongs to Bill Barr’s Justice Department, which has no interest in prosecuting Trump’s friends. The NYAG is using a civil suit because that’s the tool at hand. However, the NYT quotes James:

It’s an ongoing investigation. If we uncover any criminal activity, we will refer it to the Manhattan district attorney. At this point in time we’re moving forward, again, with civil enforcement.

and the virus

Deaths seem to be peaking, which makes sense given that cases peaked 2-3 weeks ago. In the US, we’re up to about 165,000 dead, a number still rising at the rate of about 1,100 a day.

I worry that we are once again just seeing a transition. As the center of the virus moved from the Northeast to the South, there was an in-between period where the national numbers dropped. Now it is shifting again from the South to the Midwest, and staging a bit of a comeback in the Northeast. The national numbers may drop for a while now, but it remains to be seen if we’re really turning the corner as a nation.

Trump’s pro-mask conversion didn’t last very long.

An 8th-grade teacher from central Iowa lists nine ways that the current discussions about schools are off-base. If you picture real kids having the kinds of classroom experiences they’ll actually have if their schools reopen, the conversation changes.

and you also might be interested in …

Another executive order this week bans “transactions” with Chinese companies ByteDance and WeChat, beginning in 45 days. ByteDance owns TikTok, a popular social media platform that I know literally nothing about. (I also own a small amount of stock in the Chinese company TenCent, which owns WeChat, another app I have never used.)

A good summary of the possible security threats posed by a Chinese social-media app that has been downloaded onto millions of American phones is at LawFare. (A sequel discussing the current executive orders is here.) As I read that post, the risks posed by TikTok and WeChat are more-or-less the same as the ones posed by Facebook or Twitter or any other social media app, compounded by the possibility that the Chinese government might get hold of the data it collects and use it for nefarious purposes.

I’m reminded of an old Travels With Farley comic strip where Farley talks to the strip’s military character, Major Mishap. Mishap explains that it’s his job to keep nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. And Farley asks, “Does that mean you think they’re in the right hands now?”

If the Chinese angle on TikTok gets everyone to take seriously what a nefarious actor could do with Google’s data trove (and why we’re so convinced that Google isn’t already that nefarious actor), that would be great. But I worry that this is just Trump acting out against a social-media universe populated by people who don’t like him, like Sarah Cooper.

If at the beginning of the year you’d asked me to list the threats to democracy, I don’t think I’d have come up with “a purge at the Post Office“.

Pulitzer-prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s new book Caste: the origins of our discontents has her out doing interviews. Here’s an amazing anecdote she recounted during her appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air, beginning around the 29 minute mark:

I had this experience in Chicago years ago when I was reporting a story that was fairly routine. I had made arrangements to interview all these people. I made the arrangements over the phone to interview a number of people for this story, and all the interviews had gone well, until I got to the last one. It was the last interview of the day. I was very much looking forward to it.

The person that I was speaking with, or going to speak with, had been very excited to talk with me over the phone. But when I got there, he happened not to have been there at the time, and the place where I went — it was a retail establishment — happened not to have other people in it, so I was waiting for him to get there. The door opens and this man comes in. He was vary harried, and he’s got this overcoat on. He’s very late for an appointment, ultimately, with me. But he’s harried, he’s frazzled, he’s anxious, and the clerk who had helped me earlier told me to go up to this man, that this was the man I was there to interview.

And I went up to him and he said, “Oh no, no, no, no. I can’t talk with you right now.” And I was flummoxed by that. I mean, we’re here for the interview, why are you saying you don’t have time to talk? And he said, “No, I can’t talk with you right now, I’m getting ready for a very, very important interview. I cannot talk with you right now.” And I said, “Well, I think I’m the person interviewing you. I’m Isabel Wilkerson with The New York Times.”

And he said, “Well, how would I know that? How do I know that you’re Isabel Wilkerson?”  And I said, “I am here. This is the time. It’s 4:30. You were here for the interview.” And he said, “Do you have a business card?” And I said, I actually happened not to have had any, because it was the end of the day and I’d been interviewing people all day and this was the last interview, which I was very much looking forward to. And I said, “I’m sorry, I’m out of business cards right now.” And he said, “Well, do you have something that … do you have some ID? Could I see some ID?”

And I said, “I shouldn’t have to show you ID. We’re already into the time where we were supposed to have the interview. We should be talking right now.” He said, “Well, I need to see some ID.” And so I pulled out my driver’s license to show it to him, and he said, “You don’t have anything with The New York Times on it?” And he said, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, because I have a very important interview coming. She’ll be here any minute. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

So I was actually accused of impersonating myself, because I was not perceived as being the person, I was not perceived as being someone who should have been in the position of a New York Times national correspondent there to interview him.

She’s goes on to explain that when something like that happens, you don’t tell your editors, for fear that they’ll lose faith in your ability to do the job. You just figure out some other way to get the story.

Recently released police body-cam video from Phoenix proves that cops kill white people too. An upstairs neighbor complained about noise from a video game Ryan Whitaker was playing with his girlfriend, and so the police showed up. AZ Central reports:

As they approach the apartment, no sounds of fighting or loud noises are heard coming from the unit.

Moments later, [Officer John] Ferragamo knocks on the door, identifying himself as Phoenix police. The officers stand to either side of the door, making it impossible for anyone looking out of the peephole to see who was there.

Whitaker opens the door, with the gun in hand and rapidly takes a couple of steps out of the apartment as Ferragamo flashes a light in his face. Ferragamo greets Whitaker and then repeatedly yells, “Hands,” according to the footage.

Whitaker is seen in the video starting to get on his knees, putting his left hand up and putting the gun behind his back when [Officer Jeff] Cooke fires into Whitaker’s back.

In the video, Whitaker appears to realize that these people are cops and start putting the gun down just before he was killed.

In addition to its influence on the national police-are-out-of-control discussion, this video also points out the problem created by the ubiquity of guns. Whitaker’s gun pushes Cook into a snap decision, which he makes badly. The number of guns in the US raises the possibility of deadly force in way too many situations, and limits people’s time to think.

After Trump pronounced Yosemite as “Yo Semite”, I joked on Facebook that soon Fox News would claim that was the actual pronunciation, and before long conservatives would all be saying “Yo Semite” just to prove they were on the right side. (The National Museum of American Jewish History is now selling “Yo Semite” t-shirts.)

Turns out it’s no joke. Two days later, Trump mispronounced Thailand as Thighland (and hilarity ensued). Conservative author (and Trump pardon recipient) Dinesh D’Souza tweeted in all seriousness:

This is actually the correct pronunciation. Most Americans say it wrong. Thailand is pronounced phonetically. It’s “Thighland,” not “Tai-land.”

When everyone laughed at him, D’Souza doubled down.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying “Thighland” is how it is said in the Thai language. The French say “Paree” but that’s not how it is pronounced in English. “Thighland,” not “Tai-land,” is how English speakers around the world say it.

That’s how it is in TrumpWorld. If the Great Leader says something out of step with reality, reality needs to change. He doesn’t speak Truth, he defines Truth. I can hardly wait for the Exalted One’s tour of Thighland to take him to Fuck It (Phuket).

Kathleen Parker’s “Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere. So schools must reopen.” isn’t wrong so much as it’s just clueless. Everyone want schools to be able to open safely, and businesses to be able to open safely, and voting to be safe, and on and on and on. The question is, “What do we do when it’s not safe?” Parker has no answers for that.

I wanted to have watched Trump’s Axios interview. I really did. But even the prospect of the interviewer pushing back couldn’t sustain me through Trump’s endless bullshit. I include the link for those of you with more endurance.

and let’s close with something electric

like Toto played on Tesla coils. That much electrical discharge is likely to bring the rains down in Africa.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Nancy Rubinstein  On August 10, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    The Africa screen at first glance looks like Homes Simpson.

  • Anonymous  On August 10, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    I think Trump is on a vendetta against TikTok because teenagers on TikTok reserved 50-60 tickets each for his rally in Tulsa and made him think that he was going to get an overflow crowd, and what he actually got was a tiny crowd. Trump is all about Trump.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On August 10, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    TikTok’s data collection goes far beyond anything Facebook or Twitter does. Every few seconds, the app records the state of your phone – it’s location, your keystrokes, or anything else you’re doing with it. It does this even when the app isn’t open, even if you’ve merely installed it but don’t use it.

    You can see this for yourself with an activity tracker that tells you when an app is active.

    • Guest  On August 12, 2020 at 10:05 am

      TikTok is egregious, but saying it goes “far beyond” anything native apps do is overselling it and minimizes domestic threats to liberty. For instance, in a WIRED article a few weeks back “Does TikTok Really Pose a Risk to US National Security?” two experts make an opposing case. “For an iOS app available to Western audiences, (TikTok) appears to collect very standard analytics information” and “(TikTok) appears to be ‘in the same league’ as other social media apps.”

      Of course, you don’t need to download any apps to get snooped without due process. Thanks to the Snowden revelations, we know telecom companies and the NSA unconstitutionally collect meaningful data on citizens with simply a phone turned on, no special apps required. For the crime of whistle-blowing this information, valuable to any functioning democracy, both conservative and liberal leadership called for his imprisonment and, as implied by the treatment of Chelsea Manning, his torture. That includes Obama, Clinton, and, hate to break it to ya, Biden as well.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On August 12, 2020 at 1:27 pm

        Facebook and Twitter do not collect your phone’s state every few seconds. Their main function is advertising – your “likes” and other activity is tracked, and an algorithm uses this information to try to sell you things that you might be interested in. TikTok’s intrusion is more invasive, and the fact that it’s transmitting this information to a foreign government should alarm you more than Snowden’s revelations.

        I don’t get this drooling reverence for Snowden, either. I’ve heard him talk, and the man is a complete ignoramus, even in his own field. For example, he’s upset because you can’t remove the battery from many modern phones, so even if you turn them off, they’re still “on” and “the government can track you.” Unless you take out the SIM card. Oops. Forgot about that.

        The real crime with Snowden is how a pipsqueak like him was making over $200K as a government contractor, doing the job that a $50K GS-9 could have handled. Comparing him to Manning is unfounded. They’re not the same just because they both took information that wasn’t theirs.

      • Guest  On August 12, 2020 at 5:18 pm

        “the fact that it’s transmitting this information to a foreign government should alarm you more than Snowden’s revelations.”

        No. My own government instituting an unethical, unaccountable, and unconstitutional mass surveillance state is a pretty big alarm in it’s own right.

        I know there is at least one VIP from the EFF among the Sift faithful, perhaps he could offer his insight, but my limited understanding is that reading phone states is commonplace among the top apps. The experts consulted in the WIRED article referenced above agree that what TikTok is doing is at least in the same ballpark. Not suggesting we let TikTok off the hook, we need to resist mass surveillance broadly.

        Unlike your ad hominems, the admiration for Snowden is not based on him as a personality. It’s for what he did and what he risked to do it. He could have been a pipsqueak janitor with a limited grasp of the English language, and he’d get the same level of admiration, at least from me. If you really are puzzled over this, check out the multiple pieces that Daniel Ellsberg has put out on Snowden over the years. Whistle blowing, particularly on unconstitutional trespasses, is a lifeline of a free press and democracy. Snowden stumbled across the largest breach of the 4th amendment in the country’s history, and risked his life, livelihood, and the threat of torture to let his fellow citizens know. Couldn’t care less if he doesn’t know the difference between a SIM card and a battery.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On August 13, 2020 at 7:29 am

        If Snowden’s revelations are so devastating, why hasn’t anyone filed a Fourth Amendment action against the government? I think Snowden is more a symbol of government overreach, same as the Bundys are in some quarters, than a revealer of anything shocking. We already knew that the phone company collects metadata on calls.

      • Guest  On August 13, 2020 at 10:00 am

        “If Snowden’s revelations are so devastating, why hasn’t anyone filed a Fourth Amendment action against the government?”

        Since you bring it up, if anyone has, would that change your mind on the subject? Or are you just in knee-jerk reaction mode? If you are in earnest, and for anyone else still reading and curious, the ACLU did exactly that:

        Press release of original 4th amendment action:

        Context for the action (you’ll see Snowden discussed):

        Where the action is now:

        I can’t find the reference at the moment, but your last line recalls something I read about stages of conservative political denial. The “We already knew that” dismissal falls somewhere between the initial “this never happened, you’re crazy” and the final “ok it did happen, but they deserved it.”

      • Guest  On August 13, 2020 at 10:56 am

        (Sorry if this is a repost, original post got blocked I’m assuming due to too many links)

        “If Snowden’s revelations are so devastating, why hasn’t anyone filed a Fourth Amendment action against the government?”

        Since you bring it up, if anyone has, would that change your mind on the subject? If you are in earnest, and for anyone else still reading and curious, the ACLU did exactly that:

        Press release of original 4th amendment action:
        (link removed – search for “ACLU sues NSA Stop Mass Internet Spying”)

        Context for the action (you’ll see Snowden discussed):
        (link removed – search for “ACLU NSA has taken over internet backbone we’re suing to get it back”)

        Where the action is now:
        (link removed – search for “ACLU wikimedia v NSA”

        I can’t find the reference at the moment, but your last line recalls something I read about stages of conservative political denial. The “We already knew that” dismissal falls somewhere between the initial “this never happened, you’re crazy” and the final “ok it did happen, but they deserved it.”

      • George Washington, Jr.  On August 13, 2020 at 9:10 pm

        I’ll look those up. But this also reminds me of other conservative complaints about supposed violations of free speech, freedom of religion, the Tenth Amendment, etc. Either no lawsuit is filed, or it’s filed and dismissed “because the entire system is corrupt.”

      • weeklysift  On August 16, 2020 at 9:33 am

        Sorry about that. When WordPress sees a lot of links in a comment, it kicks it into the moderation queue, which I am sometimes slow to notice.

      • Guest  On August 14, 2020 at 9:42 am

        Thanks, George, I hope you do look those up. Not sure if you are familiar with ACLU history, but Judicial Watch they ain’t 🙂

      • weeklysift  On August 16, 2020 at 9:41 am

        I don’t have any official knowledge of what Facebook and other apps collect. However, I have had the experience of a Facebook ad showing me the exact pair of shoes I was just looking at in a store. It’s also not unusual for me to get an ad for something my wife was googling while sitting next to me in the car. I think they’re tracking more than just my Likes.

  • Lois Strand  On August 10, 2020 at 9:25 pm

    I was not familiar with the author Isabel Wilkerson. So her story of the interview being canceled because the man didn’t believe she could possibly be the person he had an appointment with confused me. Was it because she was a young woman, too young for him to believe had a serious writing job at the NYTimes? So I googled her….oh, now I see.

  • Sandi Block-Brezner  On August 21, 2020 at 11:13 pm

    Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste should be read every person! That story is only one of hundreds she tells, and all backed up by facts.

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