Pursuing Happiness

When an ostrich buries its head in the sand as danger approaches, it very likely takes the happiest course.

– Charles S. Peirce, “The Fixation of Belief
Popular Science Monthly (November, 1877)

This week’s featured post is “Staying Sane in Anxious Times (without being useless)“.

This week everybody was talking about the looming Trump coup

The most important article of the week was Barton Gellman’s alarming “The Election That Could Break America“. Together with Trump’s repeated refusal to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power — something that has gone without saying in all previous administrations — we face the possibility that a significant majority of the American people might try to remove Trump from office and fail.

Biden’s current polling lead averages around 7.2%, which is sizeable and has been quite stable. But (as we saw in 2016), the Electoral College favors Trump, so Biden’s margin is smaller — 4.5% — in 538’s current tipping-point state of Pennsylvania.

Imagine that Trump’s voter-suppression tactics knock that margin down further, and that Trump’s people (who believe his claims that Covid-19 is not a big deal) are more likely that Biden’s to vote in person on election day. So on election night, Trump appears to be leading, but the lead shrinks as more and more mail-in ballots are counted.

Now Trump’s bogus drumbeat about mail-in voting fraud comes into play, and he charges that he has actually won, but fraudulent votes are being manufactured to steal his victory. Like most of what Trump says, this is bullshit, but it gives cover for Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered-into-power Republican legislature to exercise a long-dormant constitutional power to ignore the vote count and name its own slate of Trump-supporting electors.

Something similar happens in Ohio and Arizona and North Carolina and Florida, which represent enough electoral votes to put Trump over the top. Disputes about this percolate through Congress, and nobody is sure what happens then.

The bigger Biden’s national margin, and the more states that he appears likely to win if all votes are counted, the farther-fetched all this gets. But it’s scary to realize that it is not an impossible scenario.

If that does start to play out, the difference may come down to Belarus-style demonstrators in the streets in Harrisburg or Columbus or outside the White House or wherever the bad stuff seems to be centered. Think about what you’re prepared to do and where you’re prepared to do it, and check websites like Choose Democracy for suggestions.

But above all, don’t freeze. Pushing Biden to a sizeable legitimate margin is the first line of defense against the Trump coup.

Republicans pushed back gently and uncertainly against Trump’s threats to democracy. Lindsey Graham:

Now, we may have litigation about who won the election, but the court will decide and if the Republicans lose, we will accept that result. But we need a full court

That’s still a long way from “Let the voters decide”, as Garrett Graff observes:

What Republicans are really saying here is they’ll support a peaceful transition to Biden *if* their outright voter suppression, hostile efforts to curtail the ability of people to vote at all, AND court packing to influence election disputes all fail.

Here’s how determined Florida Republicans are to suppress the vote:

Florida’s attorney general has requested that the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to reinstate the voting rights of felons by paying their fees, according to a letter to the agencies provided to CNN by the attorney general’s office.

Florida voters thought they had reinstated the voting rights of felons who had served their time (except for murderers and sex offenders) when they overwhelmingly passed Constitutional Amendment 4 in 2018. But immediately the legislature added the provision that all fines and court costs needed to be paid as well. Many of the felons are poor, so the extra requirement amounts to a poll tax: If you can’t pay, you can’t vote.

It is also difficult for felons to determine what they owe. The Florida Division of Elections web site says:

If a person is still unsure about fines, fees, costs, and restitution, and the impact upon restoration of voting rights, the person can ask for an advisory opinion from the Florida Division of Elections. Please review section 106.23(2), Florida Statutes, and Florida Administrative Code Rule 1S-2.010 for how to ask for an advisory opinion and what information is required.

So Bloomberg and others have stepped in to clear the ledger. That’s the effort the Florida AG wants to investigate.

If things are going well for Trump, why is the campaign mastermind behind the Tulsa rally threatening to kill himself?

and his (lack of) taxes

This week’s Trump exposé:

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office.

What do those records show?

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

… The picture that perhaps emerges most starkly from the mountain of figures and tax schedules prepared by Mr. Trump’s accountants is of a businessman-president in a tightening financial vise.

Most of Mr. Trump’s core enterprises — from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative-magnet hotel in Washington — report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.

Revenue from “The Apprentice” cancelled out a lot of his business losses, but that money is drying up. Meanwhile, $300 million in loans are coming due in the next few years, and the IRS has challenged a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed many years ago.

This all came out yesterday, so I’m only seeing snap reactions. Chris Hayes:

Some people I’m seeing comment on this are vastly overestimating how “normal for a rich guy” these taxes are. Mitt Romney’s taxes were “normal for a super rich guy.” These are not.

Romney released returns showing he paid

$1.9 million in taxes on $13.69 million in income in 2011, most of it from his investments, for an effective rate of 14.1 percent

You may well have paid more than 14.1%, but $1.9 million is still way more than $750 or zero.

James Fallows:

With near-zero tax payments, either (a) he’s lying about being a business success, or (b) he’s lying to the IRS about his losses. Take your pick.

My own snap reaction to Trump’s precarious finances: If he can hold on to the presidency, he has nothing to worry about. Vladimir Putin is worth plenty of money, and so is MBS. I’m sure they’d be more than willing to prop up a President of the United States.

If he loses the election, though, he might have a problem. That (along with the possibility of going to jail) might be why he refuses to promise a peaceful transfer.

and Amy Coney Barrett

As was widely predicted, here and elsewhere, Trump has nominated Judge Amy Comey Barrett to rise from the Seventh Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.

She has been on the short list for previous Supreme Court appointments, so all the major court-watching organizations have their points and counterpoints well prepared. Basically, she is the most religiously radical of the Trump nominees. She’s not just Catholic — like five current justices — she belongs to People of Praise, an inter-denominational group that was one of the inspirations for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The group believes in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings, staples of Pentecostal churches that some Catholics have also adopted in a movement called charismatic renewal. The People of Praise was an early leader in the flowering of that movement in North America. It is ecumenical, but about 90 percent of its members are Catholic.

… Some former members criticize the group for deviating from Catholic doctrine, which does not teach “male headship,” in contrast to some evangelical churches. The personal advisers can be too controlling, the critics say; they may betray confidences, and too often they supplant the role of priest.

Mr. Lent [a PoP leader] said the group’s system of heads and handmaids promotes “brotherhood,” not male dominance. He said the group recently dropped the term “handmaid” in favor of “woman leader.”

“We follow the New Testament pattern of asking men to take on some spiritual responsibility for their families,” he said.

Conservatives are already gearing up their charges of “anti-Catholic bigotry“, but so far there is no substance behind those claims. Literally no one is attacking Barrett for being Catholic.

E. J. Dionne notes the double standard:

It wasn’t the American Civil Liberties Union or some other bastion of liberalism that questioned Joe Biden’s Catholic faith. No, it was a speaker at this year’s GOP convention, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, who called Biden a Catholic “in name only” because of Biden’s support for abortion rights. A conservative group called CatholicVote is spending $9.7 million in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other battleground states attacking the devout Biden as an “existential threat” to the church.

And Trump himself rather astonishingly declared that Biden would “hurt God,” and “hurt the Bible,” too. I didn’t hear Pence say anything about Trump’s “intolerance” toward Biden’s faith.

Josh Marshall:

I don’t know a lot about Amy Coney Barrett. But I know she’s accepting nomination from a President actively trying to subvert a national election and threatening to hold on to power by force, an attack on the constitution unparalleled in American history. Do I need to know more?

BTW, I don’t think it’s “bigotry” even if someone suggests that the Court doesn’t need a sixth Catholic. Maybe we could have just a bit of religious diversity, beyond the two Jews and one Episcopalian in the current non-Catholic minority.

If you really want to see religious bigotry, suggest putting an atheist on the Court. Or a Muslim, or a Hindu.

and the lack of Breonna Taylor charges

Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the findings of the grand jury in the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville apartment on March 13. None of the three police officers were charged with offenses related to Taylor’s death, though one was charged with reckless endangerment because his bullets penetrated a neighboring apartment. (The NYT summarizes the officer’s action: He “fired into the sliding glass patio door and window of Ms. Taylor’s apartment, both of which were covered with blinds, in violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight.”)

Cameron recounts events one way. Georgetown law professor Paul Butler tells the same story differently in a Washington Post op-ed “I am a former prosecutor. The charge in Breonna Taylor’s death is pathetically weak.” Butler asserts that all three officers should have been charged with manslaughter.

The two accounts agree on certain facts: Breonna Taylor was not a suspect in any crime, but police believed her ex-boyfriend was using her apartment to receive packages that could be drugs. They obtained a search warrant and broke down the door. Taylor’s current boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired once and wounded the first officer through the door. The three officers shot 30 rounds; none hit Walker, but six hit Taylor. There is no body-camera video from any of the three officers.

Police claim they knocked repeatedly and announced themselves as police before breaking down the door. Walker reported being awakened by knocking, but says he believed he was shooting at home invaders, not police with a legitimate warrant. (Walker called 911 and said, “I don’t know what’s happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”) Butler adds this detail:

We know the officers continued to fire long after any threat ceased. A neighbor called 911 to report gunfire, and 68 seconds into the call, you can still hear the shots.

Cameron mentioned the lack of bodycam video, but only as a challenge for investigators to overcome, not as a suspicious detail to interpret against the police. One of the officers who fired was photographed wearing a body-cam holder on his vest. VICE News says: “This contradicts statements by the Louisville Metro Police Department that the officers involved, who work narcotics, do not wear body cameras.

and the third wave of the virus

The first wave of the virus was centered in the Northeast during March and April. The second wave hit the South and West in June and July. The third wave is attacking the Midwest. The highest per-100K-people new-case rates are in the Dakotas and Wisconsin.

Nationally, the daily new-case rate bottomed out at around 35K two weeks ago, and has risen to 45K. Death rates run 2-3 weeks behind, so we should start seeing an increase there soon.

Governor DeSantis has ended all Covid-19 restrictions in Florida, including placing barriers in the way of local governments having their own restrictions. Bars, movie theaters, sporting events — it’s all fair game now.

Florida’s new-case numbers have flattened out at just under 3,000 a day, and deaths are averaging about 100 per day, with 203 reported on Wednesday. The CDC guidance back in April recommended two weeks of declining numbers before any move to relax restrictions.

More turmoil at the CDC. A week ago Friday it published new guidance about how Covid-19 spreads, saying that virus-carrying aerosol droplets can hang in the air and carry further than the previously recognized six feet. Last Monday it withdrew that guidance.

The CDC said that a draft version of proposed changes had been posted in error. The agency said it was updating information about airborne transmission of covid-19 and would post the new information once the review was completed.

The NYT adds this:

Experts with knowledge of the incident said on Monday that the latest reversal appeared to be a genuine mistake in the agency’s scientific review process, rather than the result of political meddling. Officials said the agency would soon publish revised guidance.

It is a sad fact of the Trump Era that we even need to consider the possibility of political meddling with CDC announcements.

and you also might be interested in …

You may not have noticed, but Trump signed his long-promised executive order on healthcare. Presidents who can’t even unite their own party in Congress can do very little, so this does very little. It is essentially a long list of intentions, without any funding or programmatic change to back them up. Example:

It has been and will continue to be the policy of the United States to give Americans seeking healthcare more choice, lower costs, and better care and to ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions can obtain the insurance of their choice at affordable rates.

Who’s going to provide that insurance and how it will be paid for is not spelled out. It might as well be the policy of the United States to give all American children a pony.

Trump’s executive orders banning anti-racism training in both government agencies and government contractors speak volumes. Being openly racist isn’t acceptable in most of America, but Trump is anti-anti-racist, just like he’s anti-anti-fascist.

A big part of Biden’s electability case during the primaries was that he could draw votes from disaffected Republicans. We won’t know for sure until the election, but he is drawing a considerable number of Republican endorsements — most recently from former Pennsylvania Governor and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, and from John McCain’s widow. Ridge says this:

Pennsylvania voters, along with voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, are likely to ultimately determine the next president. So much is at stake. For me, voting is not just a privilege, but a responsibility. And this year, I believe the responsible vote is for Joe Biden. It’s a vote for decency. A vote for the rule of law. And a vote for honest and earnest leadership. It’s time to put country over party. It’s time to dismiss Donald Trump.

and let’s close with something cute

I’ve had cute-puppy weeks, so I guess it’s time for a cute-kitten week. Here’s a kitten who is clearly the reincarnation of a blissed-out yoga master. Meditate on that.

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  • Jacob Miller  On September 28, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    Long time Weekly Sift reader here, and I wanted to say first of all thanks for putting in the time to write this up each week, it’s something I look forward to reading every Monday 🙂

    I wanted to also comment that the link between Amy Coney Barrett’s religious group (People of Praise) and the Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t really hold water, as described here:

    The Handmaid’s Tale was supposedly inspired by a different religious group with a very similar name (People of Hope), as well as a similar sort of vocabulary (e.g. using the term “handmaids” for female members), but they’re still different groups. This doesn’t change any of the broader points, or the well-justified fear that putting Barrett on the SCOTUS will push America more towards an oppressive theocratic state, but just wanted to throw in a quick fact check on that point.

  • Dale Moses  On September 28, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    There may be some evidence that Taylor’s BF did not shoot the police. Well, did not hit the police. In the ballistics it’s more or less notes that the police officers were issued .40 and since the bullet that struck the officer was 9mm it must have been the BF. But it turns out that one of the officers was issued a 9mm weapon…

    The problem for me is that we are now at a point where I cannot give the police any benefit of the doubt. I have to assume they are lying because they have lied so often and so egregiously, across so many departments. The officer who blind fired probably struck one of his team. And they hit Taylor because they were shooting at themselves rather than at the BF. Well that or it was an organized hit because frankly it also looks like an organized hit.

    For added “f you”. The charge on the officer who blind fired was for firing into adjacent units. But he was only charged for firing into the units of the white neighbors next door and not the black neighbors upstairs.

  • L  On September 28, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve been in a very similar situation as Brad Parscale… working IT related tasks at the request of somebody who is a sociopathic narcissist. And having a nervous breakdown when it was clear that my antagonist was going to sue me as an “employee”, despite having received exactly $0 in wages and salary. (They did, and it didn’t exactly go well for them.)

    So I don’t know the particular details of Mr. Parscale’s story, but I expect that there would be some broad parallels in the grander scheme of things.

  • frankackerman0617  On October 1, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    What’s this? Trump’s fantasy come to life? Organized, black clad anarchists on the scene in Portland, Washington, Seattle, etc. (NYT 9/30/20 “The Truth About Today’s Anarchists” Farah Stockman)

    “In Portland, Ore., he marched with people who shot fireworks at the federal court building. In Washington, he marched with protesters who harassed diners. Mr. Quinn discovered a thorny truth about the mayhem that unfolded in the wake of … George Floyd, … It wasn’t mayhem at all.”

    • weeklysift  On October 3, 2020 at 5:23 pm

      I noticed that article, and the described behavior matches reports of the “umbrella man” in Minneapolis, who was later identified as a white supremacist. Not sure where to go from there.

      It’s worth pointing out, though, that the anarchists described in the article seem to have little to do with antifascism.

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