Ill Equipped

They need that money in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it. If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money, that means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.

Donald J. Trump

This week’s featured post is “What Makes Trump an Autocrat?

This week everybody was talking about Kamala Harris

“Well, we aren’t particularly excited about him, but rumor has it that he’ll have an exciting, female No. 2.”

Even before Kamala Harris left the presidential race, backers of other candidates were talking about her as a vice-presidential candidate. As a woman of color who is two decades younger and a forceful speaker, she fills a lot of holes for the Biden ticket. There has been a lot of speculation about other women, but Harris was the leader on almost every pundit’s list from wire to wire.

Conventional wisdom says that people don’t change their votes based on the VP, and in terms of conscious thinking that’s probably true. But the second name on the ticket modifies the first as an adjective modifies a noun. A candidate’s first major choice changes how we think about him or her. When Bill Clinton went for a second white male southerner in Al Gore, that said, “I really mean it.” Ronald Reagan picking George Bush said that he wanted to change the Republican Party, but not burn it down. Barack Obama choosing Joe Biden sent a similar message.

And so Biden-Harris is a subtly different candidate than Biden-Warren or Biden-Booker or Biden-Bloomberg. In addition to the obvious demographic messages, I read something else into the Harris choice: Biden doesn’t need to be a maverick. He’s the anti-John-McCain in that sense. If the obvious choice makes sense, he’ll go with it. In the current climate, where science is being sidelined in favor of miracle cures like hydroxychloroquine or oleandrin, that’s kind of comforting. I want a president who will take the standard public-health playbook and implement it, not one who needs to be original.

Like a cover band playing a medley of bigotry’s greatest hits, Republicans went after Harris with whatever racist or sexist attacks they had left over from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Unscrupulous presidents used to let hidden minions spread such dreck, but Trump came right out with this reprise of birtherism:

“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Harris. “I have no idea if that’s right,” he added. “I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”

That’s so Trump. He makes a charge even though he has “no idea if that’s right”, and then faults somebody else for not checking things out, as if the President of the United States bears no responsibility to know what he’s talking about before opening his mouth. Friday on CBS Jared Kushner used that as a dodge:

He just said that he had no idea whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t see that as promoting it. But look, at the end of the day, it’s something that’s out there.

I keep waiting for an interviewer to throw this standard back at Trump or his spokespeople: “You know, I heard it today that President Trump owes his presidency to Vladimir Putin, and so his first loyalty is to Putin rather than the United States. I have no idea if that’s right, and I’m not promoting it, but at the end of the day it’s something that’s out there.”

BTW: There’s nothing to the Harris-is-ineligible claim. She was born in Oakland, which makes her a natural-born citizen of the United States according to the 14th Amendment. Conservatives may not like the 14th Amendment, but it’s in the Constitution all the same.

The charge was given publicity by Newsweek, which is not the magazine you may remember from years ago, and hasn’t been since 2012. The Newsweek brand has changed hands many times since 2012; the current owners have held it since 2018, have nothing to do with the original Newsweek, and do not maintain the journalistic standards you may associate with that name.

One of the sillier attacks on Harris is that she’s “not really Black” or “Black, but not African American” or something-but-not-something-else because her parents came from India and Jamaica, and so her ancestors were never enslaved in America. (Snopes says the Jamaican branch of Harris’ family are “quite likely to be descendants of slaves”.  Barack Obama’s father was born in Africa, so his ancestors weren’t slaves at all.) This is one of the criticisms Trump is dog-whistling when he calls Harris “phony”.

Race is a lived experience, not a fact of your DNA. There’s a continuum of genetic variation from one local community to the next, and always has been. So at no point in history did humanity ever split neatly into some number of biological “races”. Race is a social reality, which means that your race is a matter of how you live and are treated, not some objective fact about you.

To me, then, (and as I read the NYT’s Jamelle Bouie) the key question is: Has Kamala Harris lived with the kinds of discrimination and prejudice that Black people face in America? If (as I can observe from the responses to her nomination) the answer is Yes, then I don’t really care where her parents were born.

Back in December, Devorah Blachor wrote a great satire piece for McSweeney’s “I Don’t Hate Women Candidates — I Just Hated Hillary and Coincidentally I’m Starting to Hate Elizabeth Warren“, and then followed up in March with “I Don’t Hate Women Candidates — I Just Hated Hillary and Now I Believe Elizabeth Warren is Responsible for the Collapse of the Republic“. Both called out the kind of man who denies being sexist in general, but somehow finds reasons to oppose any specific woman who has a chance to be elected. The reasons don’t have to be too good, they just have to be specific to this woman rather than expressions of prejudice against women in general.

I’d love to see a female President. Just not Hillary Clinton. Or Elizabeth Warren. I am totally open to all other women leaders, but I have to admit that Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are beginning to make me angry and I’m not sure why yet, but I know the reason will become clear soon, and I’m also wondering what they might look like if someone photoshopped their heads onto the bodies of prisoners and put them behind bars.

Well, she’s back with “I Don’t Hate Black or Woman Candidates, but Kamala Harris is Running for Vice President and My Head Just Exploded“.

If there’s one thing we can learn from Harris’s many accomplishments  —  as a district attorney, state attorney general, and a U.S. senator, she advocated for LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights, victim’s rights, helped defend Obamacare, worked for website data collection transparency, and consistently supported a progressive agenda —  it’s that she’s too ambitious.

What’s more, Kamala Harris is too left-wing and also too right-wing. She’s too Black, but she’s also not Black enough. She’s too angry, and I don’t like how she has money. She’s dated men and her campaign was flawed, and she’s an authoritarian, and something about Sean Hannity and a Twitter official?

and Trump’s open admission that he’s suppressing the vote

I focused on this more in the featured post, so here I’ll just look at the reactions Trump got. I don’t think he appreciates what a live wire he picked up. One striking thing about the attack on the Post Office is how visual the response has been.

Apparently this next image isn’t from the postal workers union (which says it would never use the USPS logo on a political message). But it does give the Post Office’s unofficial motto a needed update.

The attack includes removing mailboxes and mail-sorting machines. So from now forward, every late prescription or check or payment is going to be blamed on Trump. And they should be.

and the virus

The World-o-meter death total is up to 173,000. The US death rate has stopped increasing and has leveled off at about 1200 a day.

Trump introduced a new doctor at a coronavirus briefing a week ago: Scott Atlas.

A senior fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, Atlas is a neuroradiologist and not an expert on infectious diseases or pandemics. But he is a frequent contributor to Fox News where he has called on schools to open, endorsed the return of college football, raised questions about mask wearing and spoken out against lockdowns and the “frenzy” of mass testing — all stances Trump has taken.

“You know that there’s no real good science on general population widespread in all circumstances wearing masks,” Atlas told Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

I continue to shake my head at the short-sightedness of everything Trump does with respect to the virus. OK, you found a doctor who is either arrogant enough or unethical enough to speak authoritatively outside his area of expertise, and that doctor says the same stuff you say. But reality gets the last word. You may convince people to open schools or go to football games or whatever, but we will all see the results. It does you no good to convince people to do stupid things, if there is enough time before the election for the results of that stupidity to become apparent.

Even if you’re just trying to get re-elected, the best thing you can do is beat the virus, not convince people that you’ve been right all along.

and schools

I was surprised that The Wall Street Journal picked my hometown (Quincy, Illinois) as a place to center their back-to-school-debate piece. If you watch the video, you’ll see exterior shots of my high school and junior high.

Florida’s Governor DeSantis has a new analogy for opening schools: It’s like the Navy SEALs taking out Bin Laden. Don’t ask me to make sense of it. But if I were teaching in Florida, it would say to me that the governor expects me to risk my life.

Will college football happen at all this year? The Big Ten and Pac 12 have canceled their seasons. The ACC, Big 12, and SEC are still planning to go ahead, at least for now. To me, though, the important question isn’t “Who starts their season?” but “Who manages to finish a season?”. I predict no one will. A number of teams (Rutgers, LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma) already have had outbreaks.

To see just how irresponsible it is to play football this year, look at how Florida State is planning to do it: Claiming that they are following CDC guidelines that limit venues to 25% capacity, they plan to have 15K-20K fans at their home games. Naturally, we can expect well-behaved college students to use that extra space for social distancing, rather than gathering together for crowd-surfing and other unsafe activities.

I think this has huge political implications. I’ve already gotten this on a Trump email list: “The Radical Left is trying to CANCEL College Football. Can you believe it?

But I don’t think Trump is going to be able to shift the blame on this. The reason we can’t have college football is that he has screwed this up so badly. Biden should find some famous Ohio State graduate in the NFL and get him to do an ad where he says that Trump’s incompetent response to the virus is why we can’t have OSU football this year. “If we had a president who could do the job, Justin Fields would be on his way to a Heisman. It’s really that simple.” I think that argument locks up Ohio (where Biden already has a very narrow lead) and hence the Electoral College.

and you also might be interested in …

This week’s entry in Apocalypse Bingo is an inland hurricane-force storm hitting Iowa. (Did your card have that?) What about a “firenado“?

Technically a “derecho“, a band of high-wind thunderstorms hit Iowa last Monday. With winds above 100 mph, the system would be Category 2 on the hurricane scale. Cedar Rapids reports losing “thousands” of trees, and about 1/3 of the state’s cropland was affected.

As of midday Friday, some 140,000 customers remained without power in Iowa, according to Another 60,000 were without power in Illinois.

One of the more striking things about this storm was that nationally, nobody noticed.

If somebody is telling you that voting for Biden will make no difference, show them this link: A federal appeals court just ruled 2-1 that California’s ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines is unconstitutional. This is one of several similar bans in states around the country. The opinion was written by a judge Trump appointed. If Clinton had won in 2016, the decision would have gone the other way.

High-capacity magazines allow mass shooters get to take down more people before they have to reload. Banning them is one of the few things states have managed to do in response to mass shootings.

Ever since the Jacksonville portion of the Republican Convention got canceled, Trump has been searching for the perfect place to give his acceptance speech. For a while he was considering the Gettysburg Battlefield, site of another famously disastrous Confederate overreach. Unfortunately, holding a partisan event on federal property is probably illegal.

The president is not subject to the Hatch Act, a Depression-era law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job. But everyone who works for him is. By delivering a speech with the Gettysburg battlefield as a backdrop, experts said, Mr. Trump would risk putting park rangers and other park employees at risk of a violation.

So instead, Trump plans to give the speech from the lawn of the White House, which is also a federal property. I’m sure he will not grasp the irony of delivering a law-and-order speech at an illegal venue.

In my opinion, the most appropriate spot would be Death Valley, the lowest point in the United States.

Trump on Mount Rushmore? Well maybe, if they do it right.

Reuters took some aerial photos of the Border Patrol’s camp for migrants near McAllen, Texas. Is this the kind of thing you want your country doing?

And speaking of immigrants:

and let’s close with something difficult

The Onion has been having a really hard time coming up with stories more ridiculous than what’s actually been happening, so I want to congratulate them on this one: “Federal Troops Tear-Gas Yankees Off Field So Trump Can Throw Out First Pitch“. The real backstory of this is that Trump announced he was throwing out the first pitch of the Yankees’ season, and then announced that he was cancelling. In fact, he had never been invited, but he was jealous of Dr. Fauci throwing out the first pitch for the Nationals. It had to be hard to top a news story that ridiculous, but The Onion was up to the job.

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  • SamuraiArtGuy  On August 17, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    “It does you no good to convince people to do stupid things, if there is enough time before the election for the results of that stupidity to become apparent. Even if you’re just trying to get re-elected, the best thing you can do is beat the virus, not convince people that you’ve been right all along.”

    He can’t do it. He’s not wired that way. That would require him admitting that he was wrong about ALL THAT BULLSHIT… never has, never will.

    This is still insightful…

    “Social and moral norms regarding honesty mostly have to do with the semantic form of communication. One’s words are supposed to correspond with, or at least not mislead about, the facts as one understands them. But Trump simply doesn’t view what he’s engaged in as an exercise in articulating and defending beliefs about factual states of affairs. He is as blind to that function of communication as human eyes are to infrared light.” – David Roberts, Vox

  • Linda Q  On August 17, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    Really happy to have had a friend share your blog!

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On August 17, 2020 at 6:05 pm

    “Barack Obama’s father was born in Africa, so his ancestors weren’t slaves at all”

    Really? The only people who were ever enslaved in Africa were the ones that were sold to European slave traders? There were no slaves who were kept in Africa? That’s fascinating.

    • weeklysift  On August 17, 2020 at 6:09 pm

      OK, I’ll yield on that. We don’t know of Obama ancestors who were slaves, and they wouldn’t have been American slaves.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On August 18, 2020 at 8:01 am

        Actually, Obama’s slave ancestors were on his mother’s side. One of his mother’s ancestors was a man named John Punch, an indentured servant from Africa who attempted to escape, and was sentenced to slavery for the remainder of his life. Punch married a white woman and his descendants integrated into white society.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On August 17, 2020 at 7:46 pm

      Traditional African slavery tended to be domestic rather than field.

  • Meg L  On August 17, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    Great columns, Doug. Note correction: You have Worldometer virus deaths as 173,000. The US is at 160,000-some.
    The worldometer’s site gives 766,000-some for the world. And I probably didn’t remember that number right!
    Misprints and “mismemories” happen.

    • weeklysift  On August 17, 2020 at 8:48 pm

      Click the link. It’s 173,716. World-o-meters count tends to run higher than the ones in the Washington Post and New York Times. I’m not sure why.

  • Guest  On August 18, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    A couple points here help clarify some difference between the centrist liberal, or neoliberal if you like, perspective and that of the left/progressive side of the Dem tent.

    “I want a president who will take the standard public-health playbook and implement it, not one who needs to be original.”

    In all fairness to Doug this was probably in reference to pandemic response specifically, bit reading it at face value as our public health playbook writ large and the moderate vs left perspective clash becomes apparent. Where the centrist sees that we can make American healthcare great again by simply rolling back the clock to the Obama era, the progressive sees the standard public health playbook as explicitly racist and unjust, and thus not a target at which we should aim. Our for-profit public health playbook calls for tens of thousands to die for lack of coverage, and hundreds of thousands more to face financial immiseration due to medical bills, even with insurance. The same playbook is calls for obscene racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities to persist as they have done and continue to do. These disparities are not an accident, or a bug of the playbook, they are at this point a feature. If we want to make progress, the same old same old won’t do, we will, unfortunately, need to get a little “original.”

    Next point. If we agree that racism is all too real (even if race itself is a fantasy), the key question isn’t “has Kamala Harris lived with the kinds of discrimination and prejudice that Black people face in America?” but rather “will Kamala Harris work towards policy changes that remedy the roots of institutional discrimination and prejudice that are rampant in our society?” The centrist is content to see more diverse representation among the ruling class, while the progressive seeks the meat and potatoes of actual policy.

    A quick final note so nobody gets the wrong idea, I encourage everyone to vote for Biden. Applying the lesser evil thinking to the group moderate Dems in the primary, Harris was either at or near the top for me depending on the week. We could have done worse!

    • susanmbrewer  On August 18, 2020 at 8:45 pm

      To the immediately preceding commenter: Really, you didn’t think it was pretty clear that “public health” meant “public health”, not some grand expansion of the phrase to include the country’s overall health care system? And your second topic seems to substitute what you thought Doug should have said for what Doug actually said so that you could comment as you wished.

      • Guest  On August 19, 2020 at 9:55 am

        Thanks for the reply, Susan. I tried to sidestep your first point by acknowledging that Doug likely meant it in a more narrow context, but yes “public health” can be very expansive to include a whole society’s (or public’s) response and choices around well-being and disease (health). Public health is something of a technical term, it is interdisciplinary and covers areas such as infrastructure, policy, and yes even insurance structures. You can find primers on the subject from the CDC, and the Wikipedia entry on Public Health is as good a place as any to start if you are curious. The CDC also has tons of data around racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic “disparities” which demonstrate that our public health playbook at best tolerates and at worst actively contributes to unjust and racist outcomes. Without a robust, universal, and just public health playbook, as you will find to a greater extent in other advanced nations, we find that the disparity outcomes of a racist, and anti-poor system persist across geography and time. Similar to policing, we seem to have one system for white, rich Americans, and a more dismal one for POC and the working poor. That’s a playbook worth revising, even if turning back the clock to Obama would be an improvement over the Trump era, which it would be.

        Your second point approaches tautology so I’m not sure what to offer in response other than, if you accept the premises leading up the “key question”, that question becomes trivial, and that if we care about addressing discrimination and prejudice in the context of politicians, the politician’s policy is more to the point or “key” than their lived experience. Thinking about this in another context may be helpful. I am persuaded by feminism and want to see women more empowered broadly; Sarah Palin I’m sure has lived through the type of discrimination and prejudice that women face in America daily. Does this make her an ally? Should I have voted for her? Or is her policy stance a more key point than her lived experience?

    • weeklysift  On August 20, 2020 at 8:24 am

      Guest’s more generous assumption of my intentions is correct: I meant “public-health playbook” to apply to fighting the pandemic, not to return to some pre-Trump status quo. In other words: eliminate large gatherings; close businesses like bars that encourage people to hang around together indoors; mandate mask-wearing in public areas where social distancing is impractical; make testing cheap, quick, and ubiquitous; have an easy quarantine option for people who don’t want to infect their families and housemates; and create a contact-tracing bureaucracy so that new outbreaks can be controlled quickly. Meanwhile, fund research into treatments and vaccines. It’s not rocket science, but we need leadership that will (1) fund it, including money that allows unemployed and at-risk people to eat and pay their rent, (2) communicate that vision to the public, and (3) encourage the public to go along with it rather than fight it.

      What we don’t need are snake-oil pitches for miracle cures, attacks on our public-health experts, happy talk about how under control the virus is, suggestions that it’s just “the flu” or “the sniffles”, tweets about liberating Michigan or Minnesota from epidemic-controlling rules, and so on.

      • Guest  On August 20, 2020 at 11:09 am

        Thanks for the confirmation, Doug. I want to be clear that I was working under generous assumptions of your intentions, as always, and tried to explicitly acknowledge that at the top. Instead of trying to frame you on the “wrong side” of these scenarios, the attempt was to discuss two points illuminating common perspective differences in the Democratic tent, inspired by reading a technical definition rather than the assumed colloquial version of “public health” and liberal framing around race and identity. These perspective differences can get subtle but I submit are worth exploring so as to make progress as a big tent. Assumptions on where we are comfortable drawing certain lines often go unacknowledged.

        For instance, Doug’s prescriptions in the above comment are something I think we Sifters would all sign up for. And it’s easy to imagine most of them getting implemented under an Clinton administration had she won. It seems obvious that thousands of lives would have been saved in such a scenario. Perhaps less obvious, or less discussed is that even under this idealized Clinton approach, many would still be affected and die, and no doubt the working poor and POC would be disproportionately affected. That’s what I mean about where we draw the lines. If our common sense prescriptions and responses do not include explicitly taking on the racist and unjust machinations of the institutions we employ, we should expect racist and unjust outcomes to continue to flourish. I hope this is something we can change post George Floyd, not just in the context of policing, but healthcare and other institutions.

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