Civic Faith

This is in fact the most powerful message to remember amid the worst year of my lifetime. It doesn’t have to be this way. Better things are possible. … That’s really what it’s about. We are masters of our own fate. We control our destiny collectively as a democracy and we can make things better than they are. And that’s the civic faith we all have to keep.

– Chris Hayes,
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

If Democrats win the fight to make America a democracy, the Republican Party will have to transform itself into a party capable of winning majorities in a country that is becoming more diverse and more secular. … But if Democrats lose the next few elections, they may lose democracy itself to a conservative Supreme Court and an anti-democratic Republican Party.

– Ezra Klein,
The Fight is for Democracy

This week’s featured post is “What Happens Tomorrow?“.

This week everybody was talking about the election

Most of what I have to say about that is in the featured post.

I wonder how many people share the glitch I noticed in my intuition about probability: Improbable events seem more likely if I break them up into pieces. So a whole long series of things needs to happen if Trump is going to win the election. If I think about them individually, they’re not that unlikely — like Trump winning Florida or Arizona or Texas. So I start to imagine that the whole series happening together isn’t that unlikely.

It’s like thinking that 1-1-1 is easier to roll if you throw the dice one at a time.

Mainly, I just want this to be over. I wish it were like a too-tense football game, where I can tape the rest and not watch until I know who won.

He did the early voting and then wanted to be cryogenically frozen until Inauguration Day.

I’ve done a bad job keeping track of the ballot initiatives around the country. But I voted for Ranked Choice Voting here in Massachusetts.

meanwhile the Trump corruption stories keep coming

In spite of right-wing-media’s attempt to gin up some kind of something about the Biden family, this week there really were impressive new corruption stories — about the Trump administration.

Wednesday, The New York Times had yet another Trump-corruption expose, the kind of story that would have been the #1 scandal in just about any previous administration: the bizarre story of the Justice Department’s treatment of the corrupt Turkish bank Halkbank.

That’s a long article, but Steve Benen summarizes it for people with short attention spans:

a foreign dictator asked Donald Trump to corrupt his own country’s justice system, and the Republican president gladly said yes.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan made similar requests of the Obama administration, and was turned down. I have to wonder if the difference is Trump Tower Istanbul and the millions of dollars Trump has made in Turkey. Or maybe it’s the hundreds of thousands Turkey paid in lobbying fees to Michael Flynn and Rudy Giuliani.


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was on the board of a Chinese/American joint venture until 2019, two years after he became Commerce Secretary and began overseeing Trump’s trade war with China. Ross claims he resigned from the position in 2017, in a letter to his US company WL Ross.

But Chinese corporate law experts consulted by Foreign Policy say that under Chinese law, writing a private letter to a U.S. parent company does not remove one from Chinese corporate boards.

Did he know that, or not? That’s one of many questions it would be interesting to hear him answer under oath to Congress.

Ross has had a number of ethics violations during his term.

Ross only sold his shares in Invesco in December 2017—nearly a year into his tenure as commerce secretary. He was supposed to sell his shares, valued between $10 million and $50 million, before the end of May 2017. But the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity found that, because Invesco’s stock rose in the meantime, the delay netted Ross between $1.2 million and $6 million.


The attempt to smear Hunter Biden continues to be a comedy of errors. Thursday NBC revealed that a 64-page anti-Hunter document widely distributed on right-wing social media, including by “close associates of President Donald Trump” was written by a fake intelligence firm and was authored by a non-existent Swiss security researcher.

The author of the document, a self-identified Swiss security analyst named Martin Aspen, is a fabricated identity, according to analysis by disinformation researchers, who also concluded that Aspen’s profile picture was created with an artificial intelligence face generator. The intelligence firm that Aspen lists as his previous employer said that no one by that name had ever worked for the company and that no one by that name lives in Switzerland, according to public records and social media searches.

Try to imagine something similar happening to Democrats: discovering, say, that Christopher Steele never existed and was never employed by MI-6.

The Economist sums up the problem with the Hunter Biden conspiracy theories:

To work, dumps of hacked email need a juicy target and credulous institutions. This one had neither.

and the virus

Another week, another new record for Covid-19 cases. Different media outlets collect data differently, but everyone seems to agree that we got over 90K cases in a day last week. There’s no sign this is slowing down, so we’ll almost certainly top 100K later this week.

The numbers out of the Dakotas are becoming astronomical. Nationally, we are averaging about 20-21 new cases per day, which is bad enough. But North Dakota is up to 139 and South Dakota 134.


I’ve previously estimated (using Canada as a control country) that the Trump administration’s bungling of the government response to Covid is responsible for about 130K American deaths. But what about the deaths Trump is personally responsible for?

Researchers looked at 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22 and analyzed Covid-19 data the weeks following each event. They compared the counties where the events were held to other counties that had a similar trajectory of confirmed Covid-19 cases prior to the rally date. Out of the 18 rallies analyzed, only three were indoors, according to the research.

The researchers found that the rallies ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. They also concluded that the rallies likely led to more than 700 deaths, though not necessarily among attendees.


The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report on the “significant investments, accomplishments, policies and other actions undertaken by President Trump to advance science and technology”. The associated press release quotes WHOSTP Director Dr. Kevin Droegemaier:

The highlights in this report represent just a fraction of the achievements made by the Trump administration on behalf of the American people. We have achieved a proud record of results, and under President Trump’s leadership, science and technology will continue to inspire us, unite us, and guide us to ever greater progress.

“What achievements?” you might ask. Well, the first highlight the press release mentions is “Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic”. Of course you didn’t know about that, because the fake news media continues to hide the fact that the pandemic has ended, pretending instead that nearly 100,000 Americans get infected in a single day, and often more than 1,000 die.

Every “highlight” gets a paragraph in the press release, and each one contains the word “Trump”. It’s like the old Soviet research journals, where even the driest most technical article would begin by explaining that none of this would be possible without the historic insights of Marx and Lenin.

and disenfranchising Americans

For years, Republicans have been doing their best to make it hard to vote. We see the evidence in every election, in those long lines that voters (usually Black voters, for some strange reason) have to endure if they want to cast a ballot. (In the mostly white neighborhoods where I’ve lived, voting seldom takes more than a few minutes.)

This year, the pandemic has made voting more dangerous, especially for seniors and younger people with complicating conditions like diabetes or asthma. Across the country, Democrats have put forward ways to make voting easier and safer, which Republicans have blocked wherever they hold power.

When they haven’t been able to block easier voting methods through the political process, Republicans have gone to court, taking advantage of the huge number of judges Trump and McConnell have managed to install in the last four years.

With election day approaching, the Republican legal strategy has shifted from making voting harder to disqualifying ballots already legally cast. Here are the most outrageous cases so far.

  • In Texas, conservative activists are suing to throw out 127,000 ballots cast in drive-through polling places in Houston. The Texas Supreme Court threw the suit out, but a federal court is considering it today.
  • In Minnesota, a federal appellate court ruled that mail-in ballots received after election day must be sequestered, in case they have to be declared invalid later. Instructions mailed with the ballots say they will be counted as long as they are postmarked by election day, in accordance with a consent decree issued in state court.

Imagine, just for a moment, an America where both parties believe that voting is a good thing, and that every ballot cast in good faith should be counted. Idyllic, isn’t it?

and what’s up with that dystopian version of the American flag?

Right about the time that NASCAR and a bunch of other organizations banned Confederate flags, the popularity of a new flag started growing in the just-this-side-of-fascist segment of the citizenry: the thin-blue-line flag. Below, we see a Trump rally where it has essentially replaced the American flag.

I’m reminded of the color-shifted Superman costume in the dystopian graphic novel Kingdom Come; black replaced brighter colors.

This flag is supposed to be pro-police, building on the image that the police are the “thin blue line” between civilization and anarchy. It’s sometimes referred to as the Back the Blue or Blue Lives Matter or anti-Black-Lives-Matter flag.

In practice, and especially now that it has merged into Trump’s vision of “law and order”, the flag now stands for what Jeff Sharlet calls “police nationalism” and defines as “identity founded on fetishization of an explicitly brutal & implicitly racist idea of policing.”

Implicit in the slogan “Back the Blue” when used by police nationalists is the fantasy of a coming conflict (which aligns neatly with QAnon’s idea of a “storm”) in which “backing the Blue” will mean choosing a side in a civil war not so much feared as anticipated.

It would be one thing if Back the Blue was a spontaneous expression of support for public servants in a dangerous and difficult profession. But coming at this particular moment, as Blue Lives Matter, making support for police a response to Black Lives Matter, sends another message entirely: “Go ahead and kill all the Black people you want, officers. We’ve got your back.”

and you also might be interested in …

Remember when a hurricane striking Louisiana would have dominated the news for a week or more?


If the election goes well, I’m going to start focusing on ideas for fixing American democracy, which has come way too close to self-destructing.

The most interesting ideas, because they might actually happen, are the ones that don’t require changing the Constitution. Here’s one I never thought of before: Change the number of representatives in Congress. We got to 435 via the Reapportionment Act of 1929, but there’s nothing sacred about that number.

One proposal I find intesting: The state with the least population (currently Wyoming at around 579K) gets one representative, and then every other state would get representatives based on how many Wyomings they have, instead of making one representative for every 759K, as you’d have to in order to keep the House down to 435.

The effect is to take disproportionate power away from small states, both in Congress and in the Electoral College. The more representatives, the more electoral votes — which devalues the two the each state gets from its senators.


Poland has imposed one of the world’s most draconian abortion bans. This weekend a few people decided to protest.


It’s striking that the first thing Amy Coney Barrett did after being confirmed to the Supreme Court was to let Trump turn her swearing-in ceremony into a campaign event at the White House.

Compare this extravaganza with Sonia Sotomayor’s swearing-in, which happened in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court.

Only the chief justice, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Sotomayor’s immediate family, Judge Robert Katzmann of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, members of the chief justice’s staff and a court photographer attended this ceremony. Her mother, Celina Sotomayor, held a Bible for the ritual.

Similarly, only a “small gathering of Elena Kagan’s family and friends” witnessed her swearing-in. In each case, President Obama recognized that his role in the process had ended, and the new justice was now independent of his administration. Whether Barrett retains her independence, or even wants to, remains to be seen.

and let’s close with something astounding

What better way to Rocky the Vote than to get Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and a number of other notables to make cameo appearances in a “Time Warp” video?

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Comments

  • leegschrift  On November 2, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    Let’s hope that the people win. If not, then fight for your democracy. The only way to go. Keep faith.

  • Derek Popp  On November 4, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    For apportionment why don’t we go back to the constitution?

    Article I, Section II of the Constitution says that each state shall have at least one U.S. Representative, while the total size of a state’s delegation to the House depends on its population. The number of Representatives also cannot be greater than one for every thirty thousand people.

    To use the argument of the textualists and originalists we should have 1 member of the house for every 30,000 people or around 11,000 in the house. You do have to wonder where Justice Barrett would stand on this. The intent is pretty clear, more democracy.

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