Beautiful Times

If it was such a God-damned fine, beautiful time, why did it turn into this time which is not so damned fine and beautiful if there wasn’t something in that time which wasn’t fine and beautiful?

– Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (1946)

The wealthy business elite never took to Obama, even though he didn’t castigate or prosecute those who had caused the financial crisis. The military and foreign policy establishment never fully took to Obama, even though he refrained from exorcising all of the demons (and people) who led us into Iraq or participated in the use of torture. America’s oil-rich allies in the Gulf never took to Obama, even though he continued to sell them weapons. The Republican Party relentlessly attacked and sought to undermine Obama, even though he came into office determined to work with them. Eight years later we got Trump, a reality star playing a billionaire, committed to cutting taxes for the wealthy, wrapping himself in the trappings of the military, rewarding the oil-rich allies, and tapping the darkest veins of the Republican Party’s racism and jingoism through his brand of white identity politics. Don’t tell me Trump isn’t the establishment.

– Ben Rhodes, After the Fall (2021)

This week’s featured posts are “After the Fall” and “Simone Biles vs. Sports Culture’s Toxic Masculinity

This week everybody was talking about the 1-6 Committee

Tuesday four police officers, two from the Capitol Police and two from DC Police, testified to the 1-6 Select Committee about their experiences fighting the rioters. It was a moving kick-off to the hearings, and served as an antidote to the gaslighting Republicans have been doing these last six months.

The officers said the rioters they fought against were terrorists. Woven into the stories about how they and their colleagues were attacked — and in some cases badly injured — the officers expressed outrage that the violence launched by pro-Trump supporters was being ignored by the very lawmakers they protected that day.

Trump has called the rioters a “loving crowd“, and suggested that they were welcomed by police.

They were ushered in by the police. I mean, in all fairness — the Capitol Police were ushering people in. The Capitol Police were very friendly. You know, they were hugging and kissing.

Other Republicans have compared the insurrectionists to tourists, and praised them as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law”.

The four policemen reintroduced reality into the discussion. They were verbally assaulted with racial slurs. They were beaten and badly injured. They feared for their lives. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn urged the committee to find the real cause of the riot.

If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to jail. But not only does the hitman go to jail, but the person who hired them does. It was an attack carried out on Jan. 6 and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.

Predictably, conservative media decided “Back the Blue” didn’t apply here. Based on nothing but the inconvenience of his testimony, Tucker Carlson all but denied that Dunn was a cop.

Dunn has very little in common with your average cop. Dunn is an angry left-wing political activist.

If that were true, it should have been easy to find a Capitol policeman to say so. But, of course, Carlson produced no such witness. Laura Ingraham said the officers deserved “acting awards”, but likewise did no journalism to contradict their testimony.

Before the hearings started, I had wondered what role the two Republicans, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both of whom were appointed to the committee by Speaker Pelosi, would play. Would they just be window dressing that allowed the committee to claim to be bipartisan? Or would they be more active?

They’re going to be active. This is from Cheney’s opening statement:

America is great because we preserve our democratic institutions at all costs. Until January 6th, we were proof positive for the world that a nation conceived in liberty could long endure. But now, January 6th threatens our most sacred legacy. The question for every one of us who serves in Congress, for every elected official across this great nation, indeed, for every American is this: Will we adhere to the rule of law? Will we respect the rulings of our courts? Will we preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution? I pray that that is not the case.

It would not surprise me if Cheney becomes the star of these proceedings. She clearly wants the role and Democrats seem happy to let her have it.

The next order of business seems to be sending out subpoenas. The Department of Justice has formally waived executive privilege claims, instructing former officials “to provide information you learned” while serving under the former president.

The NYT summarizes DOJ’s logic:

The department reasoned that congressional investigators were examining potential wrongdoing by a sitting president, an extraordinary circumstance, according to letters sent to the former officials. Because executive privilege is meant to benefit the country, rather than the president as an individual, invoking it over Mr. Trump’s efforts to push his personal agenda would be inappropriate, the department concluded.


But the committee may have a harder time securing testimony from Trump and aides such as former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mo Brooks of Alabama. Even if the Biden administration doesn’t intervene, Trump could still try to go to court to stop the select committee from obtaining documents and testimony from the Trump White House by attempting to assert privilege, an effort that could delay the probe.

I have to think that will be a bad look for them, and delaying the investigation just pushes it closer to the 2022 elections.

The Justice Department also released handwritten notes from an aide to Trump’s Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, detailing one of many phone conversations in which Trump tried to enlist the Justice Department in his attempt to stay in power after losing the election. Deputy AG Richard Donoghue noted that Trump pushed election-fraud theories at himself and Rosen, but that Donohue pushed back.

“Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Mr. Donoghue said, adding that the department had conducted “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews” and had not found evidence to support his claims. “We look at allegations but they don’t pan out,” the officials told Mr. Trump, according to the notes.

When told the DOJ had no power to change the outcome of the election, Trump replied that they should “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republicans in Congress.”

I doubt Trump himself will ever consent or be forced to testify. (He’s not Hillary Clinton, after all. There’s no way he could give coherent answers for 11 hours, much less avoid perjury.) But if he ever faces questioning, I would like to see him confronted with a list of all the people who investigated and told him his fraud theories were bunk: Rosen and Donohue, Bill Barr, Brad Raffensperger, and probably many others. He either knew he lost the election or he is completely insane.

and infrastructure

The long-anticipated bipartisan infrastructure bill finally exists. The Senate could vote on it as early as this week, and at the moment it looks likely to pass. What happens next is anybody’s guess. Ideally, Senate Democrats go on to pass their larger infrastructure package via reconciliation, and the House passes both bills simultaneously. If the Senate is slow, or if the reconciliation bill fails because either Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (and all Republicans) vote against it, then we’ll see whether House progressives go through with their threat to torpedo this bill. That would be a bold move, and could mean that nothing gets passed.

and the pandemic

Things continued to get worse, and the CDC changed its guidance to say that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors if they are in an area with substantial or high levels of transmission. New studies of the Delta variant show that vaccinated people can spread the disease, which previously seemed unlikely.

Here’s a clear explanation of how vaccinated people can catch and spread Delta without getting seriously ill themselves:

The Delta variant seems to flourish in the nose, the main port of entry for the virus. The vaccines are injected into muscle, and the antibodies produced in response mostly remain in the blood. Some antibodies may make their way to the nose but not enough to block it.

“The vaccines — they’re beautiful, they work, they’re amazing,” said Frances Lund, a viral immunologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “But they’re not going to give you that local immunity.”

When the virus tries to snake down into the lungs, immune cells in vaccinated people ramp up and rapidly clear the infection before it wreaks much havoc. That means vaccinated people should be infected and contagious for a much shorter period of time than unvaccinated people, Dr. Lund said.

“But that doesn’t mean that in those first couple of days, when they’re infected, they can’t transmit it to somebody else,” she added.

As for the numbers, new cases per day in the US is approaching 80K, up from around 50K a week ago. Deaths are averaging 350 per day, up from 269 a week ago, but still well below the 3,300 we were seeing in mid-January.

The center of the new wave is moving to Florida, where new cases per day is just under 16K, or right about where it was at the January peak. Louisiana has over 4K new cases per day, a new high. Deaths in each state are at about 1/4th their January high.

As the country contemplates the possibility of new mask mandates or even a return to shutting down theaters and restaurants, the public mood is turning against the unvaccinated. In the beginning, just about all the talking heads advocated patience: Give the unvaccinated time, address their concerns, and don’t be judgmental.

This week, patience went out the window. “Vaccinated America has had enough,” David Frum wrote in The Atlantic. NBC News reports on the “scorn, resentment” the unvaccinated are triggering.

From Kevin McShane:

Occasionally I channel-scan through Tucker Carlson’s show and find him “asking questions” about the safety or effectiveness of Covid vaccines. Like Wednesday, when he quoted Dr. Fauci explaining about vaccinated people carrying the virus in their nasal passages (see above), and said “What? What does that even mean? We’re not even going to speculate as to what that means.”

OK, everybody understands that Tucker’s show isn’t news, it’s entertainment for red-hatters. But even so, he’s on an effing news channel. When he has questions, he could interview somebody who knows answers. Why doesn’t he? That’s the question I want to raise.

Why would you raise questions and stop there, when you have the resources to get answers?

and Simone Biles

See one of the featured posts. Late-breaking news: She’s coming back for tomorrow’s balance-beam competition.

and (still) the 2020 election

The “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County has now finished its work, but it’s still not clear when the report will come out. The audit was started with $150,000 from the Arizona Senate, but was obviously costing more than that. We now know they raised $5.7 million from “political groups run by prominent Trump supporters including Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Patrick Byrne and correspondents from One America News Network”.

Trump complained on election night that the ballots were taking too long to count, but his “auditors” have been working since April 22. I have little doubt they will come up with some reason to claim that Trump really won Arizona. That was their mission, and no other outcome would be acceptable to their sponsors. The reason this has taken so long, in my opinion, is that the ballots themselves don’t support that conclusion. If there were clear evidence of election-stealing fraud, they’d have reported it months ago.

Along the same lines, the My Pillow guy is planning a three-day event August 10-12 in Sioux Falls, where he will present in detail the “cyberforensics” that prove Trump won.

Last January—on the 9th, he says carefully, placing the date after the 6th—a group of still-unidentified concerned citizens brought him some computer data. These were, allegedly, packet captures, intercepted data proving that the Chinese Communist Party altered electoral results … in all 50 states. This is a conspiracy theory more elaborate than the purported Venezuelan manipulation of voting machines, more improbable than the allegation that millions of supposedly fake ballots were mailed in, more baroque than the belief that thousands of dead people voted. This one has potentially profound geopolitical implications.

That’s why Lindell has spent money—a lot of it, “tens of millions,” he told me—“validating” the packets, and it’s why he is planning to spend a lot more.

He claims that after his evidence is made public, the Supreme Court will vote 9-0 to reinstate Trump. (Where exactly does the Constitution make provision for such a thing?)

It’s hard to tell whether Lindell himself is grifting, or if he’s a victim of the grifters who are “validating” the packets.

He will not, on August 10, find that “the experts” agree with him. Some have already provided careful explanations as to why the “packet captures” can’t be what he says they are. Others think that the whole discussion is pointless. When I called Chris Krebs, the Trump administration’s director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, he refused even to get into the question of whether Lindell has authentic data, because the whole proposal is absurd. The heavy use of paper ballots, plus all of the postelection audits and recounts, mean that any issues with mechanized voting systems would have been quickly revealed. “It’s all part of the grift,” Krebs told me. “They’re exploiting the aggrieved audience’s confirmation bias and using scary yet unintelligible imagery to keep the Big Lie alive, despite the absence of any legitimate evidence.”

One of the most ominous parts of Georgia’s new election law was that it created a process by which the Republican legislature could take over the management of local elections. In essence, a non-partisan process would be taken over by a partisan group.

Now the legislature has taken the first move in that process: It has requested a performance review of election officials in heavily Democratic Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. Republicans blame their loss of the presidential election in Georgia and both of Georgia’s senate seats on the fact that a lot of Black people voted in Fulton County. Now they’re moving into a position to do something about that.

and the eviction moratorium

The Covid-related eviction moratorium ran out at the end of July.

The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September, helped keep 2 million people in their homes as the pandemic battered the economy, according to the Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

Eviction moratoriums will remain in place in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, California and Washington DC, until they expire later this year.

Elsewhere, evictions could begin on Monday, leading to a years’ worth of evictions over several weeks and ushering in the worst housing crisis since the last major recession, in 2008.

NPR (referencing the Census Bureau) says that 7 million households are behind on their rent. The NYT says 6 million, and provides a map showing where they are.

The expiration is the result of a multi-player screw-up. After the CDC established the moratorium, the Covid relief packages passed in December and March together allocated $45 billion to rental assistance. But only $3 billion has been distributed, for a number of reasons.

Confusion at the federal level about how to distribute that amount of money, and which of numerous programs would handle distribution, has also slowed getting the aid out. As Vox’s Jerusalem Demsas has reported, many renters in need of aid simply did not know that they were eligible for rent relief, and if they did, some were unable to provide the necessary paperwork because of their turbulent living circumstances, lack of formal documentation of their work, or nontraditional rental agreements.

The Biden administration would have liked to extend the ban on evictions at least until the relief money gets distributed. (It would suck to be thrown out on the street when Congress had already appropriated money to keep you in your home.) But although the Supreme Court refused to order an end to the moratorium in June, one of the five votes in the 5-4 majority was Brett Kavanaugh, who made it clear in his concurring opinion that he only let the moratorium continue because it was scheduled to expire soon. He felt that waiting for the intended expiration would result a “more orderly” process than just cutting it off.

From that, the administration concluded that the Court would throw out any attempt at an extension by executive order, so Congress had to act. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, it didn’t make this announcement and ask for Congress to address the issue until this week.

Congress has been unable to respond in time. No one knows whether the Senate could have overcome a filibuster, because a moratorium-extending bill has not made it through the House. Progressive and moderate Democrats in the House weren’t able to come to agreement, and of course they got no help from Republicans. A last-ditch attempt to extend the ban just until October required (for reasons I don’t understand) unanimous consent, but Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry objected.

The House is now in recess, but members have been warned of a possible 24-hour recall if an infrastructure bill gets through the Senate. Possibly something might be done then.

Two weeks ago I pointed to Congress’ inability to resolve the Dreamers’ immigration status as an example of broken democracy. This is another example. Hardly anyone thinks it’s a good idea to evict large numbers of people from their homes right now, but that seems to be what’s going to happen.

and you also might be interested in …

I try not to do too many a-Republican-said-something-outrageous notes, because (1) I could fill the whole Sift with them every week, and (2) it’s not good for me to spend so much of my time being outraged. But this one takes the cake: Elise Stefanik, you might remember, became the third-ranking Republican in the House after Liz Cheney was ousted for being insufficiently subservient to Donald Trump. Friday she tweeted:

Today’s Anniversary of Medicare & Medicaid reminds us to reflect on the critical role these programs have played to protect the healthcare of millions of families. To safeguard our future, we must reject Socialist healthcare schemes.

But Medicare and Medicaid are socialist healthcare schemes. Republicans have been telling us that for more than half a century. In 1961, Ronald Reagan recorded an entire LP making the case that Medicare would lead first to a complete government takeover of healthcare, and then to a socialist dictatorship. If Medicare passed, Reagan warned,

you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

So if you believe that Medicare and Medicaid play a “critical role” in protecting “the healthcare of millions of families”, the obvious conclusion to draw is that socialist healthcare schemes work.

AOC retweeted Stefanik, and then drove the point home:

Totally agree. In fact, to further protect Medicare from socialism, let’s strengthen it to include dental, vision, hearing, & mental healthcare and then allow all Americans to enjoy its benefits. Trust me, Medicare for All is the #1 thing you can do to own the socialists.

You can get a virtual zoo membership. Check out what’s going on in the zoo habitats whenever you want. Participate in Zoom meetings with animal experts.

and let’s close with something hyperbolic

If you’ve never read the book Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, you’ve missed out. Using a combination of text and fairly artless cartoons, Brosh tells the kinds of stories you shouldn’t tell about your childhood, or maybe anybody’s childhood.

Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a book to decide what you think. Brosh publishes similar cartoons (and sometimes whole book chapters) on her blog.

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  • ramseyman  On August 2, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    Can’t Donald Trump indeed be forced to testify? Isn’t contempt of contempt of congress still a thing?

    • George Washington, Jr.  On August 3, 2021 at 7:16 am

      Congress would have to ask Biden to mobilize the U.S. Marshals to collect him. Otherwise, Pelosi can only direct the House Sergeant-at-Arms to compel a Congressman to testify, and can only have him dragged to the hearing room if he’s in the Capitol.

      Trump would undoubtedly contest any subpoena in court, which would drag the hearings out and lead to his testimony happening closer to the 2022 elections.

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