Full Responsibility

I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault.

– Donald Trump, during this week’s debate

This week’s featured post is “I Want To Believe“.

This week everybody was talking about the election

The featured post discusses my hopes and fears for Election Night.


There was a debate Thursday (transcript), which I once again was unable to make myself watch. The upshot seems to be that not much changed: Polls say Biden did better, but by a margin not much bigger than he gets in polls about how people will vote. Mostly, people liked the performance of the candidate they’re voting for anyway.


I did not see this coming: The Manchester Union Leader endorsed Biden. Maybe you have to have lived in New Hampshire to know what this means, but for decades the Union Leader WAS conservatism. It’s still a conservative paper, but I think it recognizes that its worldview has no place in a world where conservatism means Trump.

Our policy disagreements with Joe Biden are significant. Despite our endorsement of his candidacy, we expect to spend a significant portion of the next four years disagreeing with the Biden administration on our editorial pages.

But the Union Leader has bigger fish to fry than the Green New Deal.

President Trump is not always 100 percent wrong, but he is 100 percent wrong for America.

They fault him for:

  • His pre-pandemic deficit spending, which added 3 trillion to the debt. “The layman would expect that the best economy in history would be a time to get the fiscal house in order, pay down debt and prepare for a rainy day (or perhaps a worldwide pandemic).”
  • His failure to deal with Covid-19. “Mr. Trump rightly points out that the COVID-19 crisis isn’t his fault, but a true leader must own any situation that happens on their watch. We may be turning a corner with this virus, but the corner we turned is down a dark alley of record infections and deaths.”
  • He can only cause division at a time when the country needs unity. “America faces many challenges and needs a president to build this country up. This appears to be outside of Mr. Trump’s skill set. Building this country up sits squarely within the skill set of Joseph Biden.”

and the virus

The daily new-case numbers hit a new high Friday. The exact numbers vary depending on things like when you change over to a new day, but The Washington Post claimed 82,920 cases Friday, while The New York Times recorded 85,085. In both systems, Thursday had just missed setting the record established in July, and Saturday’s total was either just above (WaPo) or just below (NYT) Friday’s.

Here’s what the WaPo graph currently looks like:

It’s worth noting that the first hump is probably understated, because tests were much harder to get in March/April. The weekly death totals have never again reached the April levels of around 15K. The second wave peaked in August at around 8K. Deaths tend to lag cases by about a month, and are now running a little over 6K per week. (That’s the tiny kernel of truth behind Rudy Giuliani’s outrageous statement that “People don’t die of this disease anymore.” Ignoring six thousand corpses is easier than ignoring 15 thousand corpses.)

But in addition to that time lag, it does look like fewer cases are leading to death now, as treatments gradually improve. There is still no cure, and the strategy is still to keep people alive until their own immune systems can win the battle, but doctors are getting better at it.


Meanwhile, there’s another White House outbreak, this time among Mike Pence’s staff.

and the new justice

Amy Coney Barrett will be voted on by the Senate tonight. Republicans have the votes to confirm her, and President Trump expects to have a ceremony swearing her in almost immediately.

Within days, she may start voting on cases that influence the election: Pennsylvania Republicans are still trying to get the state not to count mail-in votes that are postmarked by Election Day, but arrive later.

The Court will start hearing arguments about invalidating ObamaCare on November 10.

Senator Angus King of Maine and Heather Cox Richardson combine on an explanation of why Barrett’s “originalism” philosophy doesn’t make sense.

[T]his idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”

In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.

So is the Air Force unconstitutional, even though it clearly fails both prongs of the “originalist” test?

I gave another example — the impossibility of applying any originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment — last year.

They go on to explain what’s really going on with this nonsensical theory, which of course will never be applied to the Air Force or corporate free speech or any other non-original notion that serves the purposes of conservatives.

Originalism is an intellectual cloak drummed up (somewhat recently) to dignify a profoundly retrogressive view of the Constitution as a straitjacket on the ability of the federal government to act on behalf of the public. Its real purpose is to justify a return to the legal environment of the early 1930s, when the Court routinely struck down essential elements of the New Deal. Business regulation, Social Security, and Medicare? Not so fast. The Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, a woman’s right to choose? Forget it.

but the Court is just one of the things that will need to be fixed

Assume for a moment that the polls are right and Biden wins the presidency. (Then go back to whatever level of uncertainty causes you to put the most effort into influencing the outcome.) American democracy will have dodged a bullet, narrowly avoiding the fate of failed or failing democracies like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and Poland.

But in some ways we’ll be like a middle-aged heart-attack survivor: There’s no reason we can’t go on to have a robust life, but we’ll also have to make changes if we don’t want the same thing to happen again. Trump has pointed out just how fragile our system is, and how much it has depended on all the players operating with a certain amount of good faith and good will.

For example: We have emergency laws so that the country can respond to crises that play out too quickly for Congress to act. We all took for granted that no president would declare a phony emergency just to circumvent the will of Congress, as Trump did to fund his border wall.

And the institutional structure of our government — what Trump derides as “the Deep State” — has resisted many of his worst impulses. But like a levee holding back a flooding river, it eroded, sometimes very badly. The Justice Department may have withstood pressure to arrest Trump’s political opponents, but it also distorted the findings of the Mueller Report and corruptly favored the President’s criminal friends. The CDC continues to battle Covid-19, but has lost the faith not just of the public, but of some states as well. The Director of National Intelligence has often sounded like someone who works for the Trump campaign, not the United States government.

The recent executive order extending the President’s power over government professionals (explained below) will only make this worse.

Electing Biden may stop the flood, but we will also need to repair the levees — and not just to their previous strength. This is one important area where we need to “build back better”. The next would-be autocrat might be cleverer and less buffoonish than Trump. We need a democracy that can survive that challenge too.

things like the media

One levee that badly needs repair is the press. For that issue, I recommend Vox’ recent interview with Jay Rosen. Rosen and interviewer Sean Illing discuss a propaganda tactic the Russians call the “firehose of falsehood” and Steve Bannon described as “flooding the zone with shit”: You say so many false and outrageous things that the media’s attempt to fact-check you drives the news cycle. Opposing views are pushed out of the conversation, and the argument becomes You vs. the Media.

The first Trump/Biden debate is a perfect example: No one remembers anything Biden tried to say. The whole post-debate conversation was about Trump’s outrageousness and the moderator’s inability to control him.

Trump is the first major politician to bring this tactic to the US.

[Previous presidents] would change the [fact-checked] claim to make it kind-of sort-of factual, or they would take it out of the stump speech, because they didn’t want to suffer the penalty of being described as untruthful. And this was true across parties.

Illing asks how a news outlet like The New York Times can deal with this tactic without being “seen as inherently biased by a lot of people”, and Rosen acknowledges this is impossible.

What’s actually achievable, however, is a newsroom that serves everyone in the country — Democrats and Republican — who shares with Times journalists a certain baseline reality and evidentiary standard. That’s all you can get. … If the perception of critics can shape rule-making in his newsroom, then [NYT editor Dean] Baquet has surrendered power to enemies of the Times, who will always perceive bias because it is basic to their interests to do so.

Rosen wants election coverage to become voter-centered rather than candidate-centered: What’s important isn’t the campaigns’ strategies and messages, it’s “the voters struggling to get their concerns addressed by the system”.

In the citizens agenda model, you “win” when you gain an accurate sense of what people want the campaign to be about, and when you successfully pressure the candidates to address those things people told you they want the campaign to be about.

He also wants the media to confront openly the difference between the parties, which are no longer mirror-images of each other, if they ever were.

The Republican Party has become a counter-majoritarian party. It can only win elections by making it harder to vote, and by making it harder to understand what the party is all about. The conflict with honest journalism is structural, not just a matter of broken practices or bad actors. And I believe the people who report on politics in the United States are going to have to confront that reality, whether Trump wins or loses.

If our journalists continue in the assumption that we have a normal system where there is a contest for power between roughly similar parties with different philosophies, then every day of operation they will be distorting the picture more and more.


Another example of how the political game has changed: The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum ‘s article “You’re Not Supposed to Understand the Rumors About Biden“.

There is apparently a new cache of “Hunter Biden emails”, with yet another dodgy story about where they came from and what they supposedly prove.

This is a different cache, one that is even more tangential to the U.S. presidential campaign and even harder to understand. In order to even make sense of the messages’ content, the reader must learn the backstories of a whole new cast of characters, not just Cooney but two other convicted fraudsters named Devon Archer and Jason Galanis; the wife of the former mayor of Moscow, Yelena Baturina; and Chris Heinz, John Kerry’s stepson, who broke away from the group; as well as their relationships, their jokes (they refer to Baturina as the “USSR woman’s shot put champion”), and the rules of the ugly world they inhabit. In order to link them to Joe Biden, you have to turn somersaults, do triple flips, and squint very hard.

… In releasing the 26,000 emails, Tyrmand and his collaborator, the Breitbart News contributor Peter Schweizer, are not bringing forth any evidence of actual lawbreaking, or an actual security threat, by either Hunter or Joe Biden. They are instead creating a miasma, an atmosphere, a foggy world in which misdeeds might have taken place, and in which corruption might have happened. They are also providing the raw material from which more elaborate stories can be constructed. The otherwise incomprehensible reference in last night’s debate to “the mayor of Moscow’s wife,” from whom Joe Biden somehow got rich, was an excellent example of how this works. A name surfaces in a large collection of data; it is detached from its context; it is then used to make an insinuation or accusation that cannot be proved; it is then forgotten, unless it gains some traction, in which case it is repeated again.

If this all sounds vaguely like a replay of the 2016 attacks on Hillary Clinton, that’s because it is.

Those messages contained no actual scandals either—only the miasma of scandal. And that was all that mattered. But her emails was an effective phrase precisely because it was so amorphous. It was an allusion to a whole world of unnamed, unknown, and, as it turned out, fictional horrors.


I got a small chance to be part of the solution this week. Lately I’ve been working as a volunteer on The Bedford Citizen, the local online newspaper of my small Boston suburb. This part of Massachusetts is heavily Democratic, to the point that the Republicans don’t field candidates for all the important offices. This year, both our state representative and our state senator are running unopposed.

One complaint I share with Jay Rosen is that the press covers politics as if it were a horse race, with all its attention directed to the back-and-forth of the campaigns, virtually ignoring the race’s impact on how the community will be governed.

Well, that kind of coverage isn’t possible for our local legislative races, because there is no horse race to cover. What to do? Here’s how I answered that question. My article is still candidate-centered, but is more about governing than politicking.

and the environment

The town of Greensburg, Kansas was all but wiped out by a tornado in 2007. Its rebuilding plan “put the green in Greensburg”, and now the town has energy-conserving buildings and a wind farm that produces more electricity than the town uses. A farmer and local businessman comments: “People assume you’re a community of hippies or some nonsense. No, it’s the responsible way to build now.”


Could the new all-electric Hummer be good for the environment? Well, no, not really. It’s a 3-ton behemoth that takes gobs of energy to manufacture and operate, no matter where that energy comes from. But Grist does its best to see the bright side.

All that said, the Hummer EV may do something kind of useful: make all-electric driving appeal to people who aren’t that into the environment. … Even if early Hummer EV owners are only those who can afford to shell out $112,000 on a massive “supertruck,” the purchase of these metal monstrosities could increase the push to install chargers, and provoke even more EV ownership down the line in decidedly non-hipster, non-environmentalist markets. … [B]uying a Hummer might be some people’s first step into an eco-friendly lifestyle. Cutting carbon emissions is, after all, kind of a choose-your-own-adventure situation. Decide to have one fewer child to fight climate change? Good on you. Avoiding all plastic to save the ocean? Go for it! Buying an electric Hummer instead of a similarly giant gas-guzzling SUV? Uh, sure.


Tropical storm Zeta makes it official: 2020 ties 2005’s record for named storms. And hurricane season has another month to run.


Grist sums up the Trump administration’s climate-change record in an eight-minute video.

and you also might be interested in …

Wednesday President Trump issued an executive order that could finally bring the “Deep State” to heel. The order is fairly technical and hard to make interesting to the general public, but in essence it makes vast numbers of civil servants fireable by the President.

Any civil servants in “positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character” would be reclassified into a new Schedule F in order to guarantee that “the President have appropriate management oversight regarding this select cadre of professionals”.

The purpose of establishing the civil service was to avoid the corrupt machine politics of the 19th-century spoils system, where the federal bureaucracy turned over every time there was a new administration. This executive order undermines civil service protections, and creates vast new opportunities for corruption and autocracy.

At stake are the career professionals who have stayed loyal to the missions of their departments rather than the whims of the President — like the scientists at the CDC and FDA who have been trying to maintain the safety standards for vaccines, even though the President wants them to approve one before the election.


Voters in Georgia and Tennessee have been challenged at the polls and told their Black Lives Matter t-shirts violated local laws against “electioneering” at a polling place.

During the primary in September, poll-watchers in Exeter, NH stopped a 60-something woman because her t-shirt was too political for a polling place. So she took it off and voted topless.

and I have a question for you

I used to have a “This Week’s Challenge” feature to encourage comments, but I haven’t done that in a long time. Well, here’s a challenge.

A computer-security researcher in the Netherlands says he hacked Trump’s Twitter account by guessing the password “maga2020!”. He reported the security problem, and if he did any mischief at all, it was subtle. That shows way more discipline than I would have had.

So that’s this week’s challenge: If you had control of Trump’s Twitter, and figured you would probably only get one tweet out before they shut you down, what would it be?

and let’s close with something old and stale

It turns out that nothing lasts forever, not even Twinkies.

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Comments

  • Guest  On October 26, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    Welcome back, Doug, we missed you.

    No space this week for the left/indigenous victory in Bolivia? I vaguely recall the US-backed right wing coup against Morales being defended in these pages, although maybe that was just in the comments…

  • nicknielsensc  On October 26, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    The Union Misleader endorses a Democrat? From what I remember, Old Bill, fascist that he was, would never have tolerated that and would have fired any member of the editorial board that even suggested such a thing. He’s probably spinning so fast in his grave you could hook up a generator and light Manchester.

  • ccyager  On November 7, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    If I had control of 45’s Twitter account, hmmmm. I think I might tweet something like this: “Yes, I cheated people who worked for me, I cheated people who enrolled in Trump University, yes, I cheated the American people by not disclosing my tax returns and not paying taxes, not divesting my business holdings, hiring my family members to run the government, and yes, I cheated during the 2016 election by getting help from Russia (no matter what they say). Yes, I want to be a dictator just like Putin and Kim Jong Un, and,I want everybody in the world to love me! I’m great! I’m the smartest guy in the world because I cheated all of you and I’m still President!”

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