Are some people now truly above the law, beholden to nothing and no one, free to ignore the law and without consequence?”

Rep. Adam Schiff

This week’s featured post is “What Conservatives Tell Themselves About Critical Race Theory“.

This week everybody was talking about Build Back Better

The negotiations over Biden’s Build Back Better plan seem to be inching towards a finish line, though we won’t really know until there’s a complete agreement. It sounds like the top-line figure will be in the $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion range, in addition to the $1-1.2 trillion in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. There are still probably a billion details to work out, but I think Democrats realize they can’t go into 2022 without more legislative accomplishments than they have now.

Once there’s an actual agreement, with a list of what’s in and what’s out, I’m going to try hard to look at it fresh, without comparing it to what I thought or hoped might be in it at some earlier stage. I think the right comparison is: What was I expecting on January 5, right after Ossoff and Warnock won the Georgia run-offs and gave Democrats their zero-vote majority?

The political style here is the opposite of what Obama did with the ACA. Then, Obama didn’t indulge much blank-slate dreaming. Single-payer was out from Day 1, and the variations of the bill debated were in a fairly narrow range. Biden has allowed a much wider range of visions to flourish, while knowing that most of them would fail to manifest. It’ll be interesting to see how those strategies contrast after Democrats have run the 2022 campaign.

and January 6

I was glad to see the House take the January 6 Committee’s job seriously and recommend Steve Bannon be prosecuted for blowing off a subpoena. The case is now in Merrick Garland’s in-box. Garland has to realize that if he doesn’t prosecute, congressional oversight of the executive branch is pretty much over.

On November 4, a federal court is due to consider Trump’s suit to stop the National Archives from turning documents from his administration over to the January 6 Committee. It’s not clear the judge’s ruling will even matter, since the point of the suit is to run the clock out.

John Eastman, the lawyer whose memo laid out the plan for Trump to overturn the 2020 election results, now claims the point of his plan was to stop Trump from doing something worse. Trump wanted Vice President Pence to simply declare him the winner on January 6. But under Eastman’s plan, Pence would give states with Republican legislatures more time to replace their Biden electors with Trump electors.

Either way, the point was for Trump to stay in power after losing the election. If Eastman’s plan had worked, American democracy would have ended by now.

and the pandemic

Cases per day in the US continue to drop at the rate of about 20-25% every two weeks, which works out to falling in half about every 5-6 weeks. The current daily average is 72,644, down 25% in the last two weeks. That’s about half what it was on September 18, five weeks and two days ago. Five weeks from now is just after Thanksgiving, which last year was the beginning of a holiday surge that continued through New Years.

The frustrating thing to me personally is that cases are falling just about everywhere but here in the Northeast. The region where I live had the lowest new-case rates in the country during the late-summer surge, but now our trends are flat while the rest of the country is improving to meet us.

The daily-new-cases-per-100K rate in my county (Middlesex, Massachusetts) has been stuck in the 14-18 range for months. Meanwhile, a county I watch because friends live there (Manatee, Florida) had bounced up over 120, but has now fallen below 10. I’m not wishing anything bad for the rest of America, I just want to share in the improvement.

The Atlantic published a disturbing article written by James Heathers, a “forensic peer reviewer” of scientific research. He’s begins by talking about ivermectin as a Covid treatment (which it isn’t), and finds that the problem isn’t entirely with YouTube videos and gullible retweeters: Enough published scientific studies said positive things about ivermectin that

it might seem perfectly rational to join the fervent supporters of ivermectin. It might even strike you as reasonable to suggest, as one physician and congressional witness did recently, that “people are dying because they don’t know about this medicine.”

The problem is that a bunch of those studies are really low quality, or even fraudulent.

In our opinion, a bare minimum of five ivermectin papers are either misconceived, inaccurate, or otherwise based on studies that cannot exist as described. One study has already been withdrawn on the basis of our work; the other four very much should be. …

Most problematic, the studies we are certain are unreliable happen to be the same ones that show ivermectin as most effective. In general, we’ve found that many of the inconclusive trials appear to have been adequately conducted. Those of reasonable size with spectacular results, implying the miraculous effects that have garnered so much public attention and digital notoriety, have not.

Worse, the sorry state of ivermectin/Covid research may not be that unusual. In Heathers’ opinion, a lot of unreliable medical research gets published. In normal times, doctors ignore it

because it either looks “off” or is published in the wrong place. A huge gray literature exists in parallel to reliable clinical research, including work published in low-quality or outright predatory journals that will publish almost anything for money.

[This reminds me of when my wife (who is still doing fine, thank you for wondering) was taking a new drug to combat an unusual variety of cancer. Occasionally the oncologist would answer one of my questions by saying that a paper pointed in such-and-such direction, but he didn’t trust it yet. I remember one disparaging comment about “Italian journals”, which I never followed up on.]

But during a pandemic, apparent “cures” from the gray literature can slip past the skepticism of the medical community and go straight to a more responsive public.

In a pandemic, when the stakes are highest, the somewhat porous boundary between these publication worlds has all but disappeared. There is no gray literature now: Everything is a magnet for immediate attention and misunderstanding. An unbelievable, inaccurate study no longer has to linger in obscurity; it may bubble over into the public consciousness as soon as it appears online, and get passed around the internet like a lost kitten in a preschool.

[An aside: I wish I’d written that lost-kitten metaphor.]

and you also might be interested in …

Ross Douthat’s column “How I Became a Sick Person” is a reminder that underneath our divergent politics, we’re all human. Douthat describes a series of scary symptoms that his doctors couldn’t explain, culminating in a controlled but chronic illness. Feel better, Ross. I’ll be rooting for you.

So the choice has become clear: Democrats can’t preserve both the filibuster and voting rights.

The last time a voting rights bill came up, Joe Manchin claimed that it was too sweeping, and that a more targeted plan could get the ten Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Manchin worked on crafting a narrower bill, which Republicans filibustered Wednesday. No Republicans at all voted to overcome the filibuster. I haven’t even heard one of them make a counterproposal. Up and down the line, Republicans are against any attempt to protect voting rights.

In light of the vote, key Democrats said they would regroup and try again to persuade Mr. Manchin and other Senate Democrats reluctant to undermine the filibuster that an overhaul of the chamber’s signature procedural tactic was the only way to protect ballot access around the country.

I’m not optimistic, but I also can’t guess how Manchin will justify himself now.

Two Republicans, former state treasurer Josh Mandel and J. D. (Hillbilly Elegy) Vance, have turned their Ohio Senate primary race into a who’s-the-craziest contest. Mandel is currently winning with tweets like this:

Maximize family time and keep working hard. Keep the freezer stocked and firearms at the ready. Buy #bitcoin and avoid debt. We will outlast these monsters and we will thrive for generations to come after God brings them down.

Vance will have to counter somehow, or risk surrendering the key doomsday-prepper voting bloc to Mandel.

On the Democratic side, Congressman Tim Ryan is also hoping to replace retiring Senator Rob Portman. His campaign website says:

Tim will fight to raise wages, make healthcare more affordable, invest in education, rebuild our public infrastructure, and revitalize manufacturing so we can make things in Ohio again. 

Sure, Tim, but what about the issues Ohio voters really care about? What are you going to do about the monsters? What role do you see yourself playing when God starts bringing them down?

We can only hope that some significant segment of former Republican voters will be disturbed by the absolute insanity that Trump has unleashed in their party. (See previous note.) But if they’re not, maybe they’ll notice the insanity Trump has unleashed in something they care more about: their churches.

Peter Wehner has just published “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart” in The Atlantic. He talks to 15 Evangelical pastors who either have left the ministry or are thinking hard about it because of the right-wing political zealotry that is tearing up their congregations.

The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.

The problem is not just that Trump’s deranged rants have replaced the Sermon on the Mount as the center of many Evangelicals’ religion. It’s also that Trump’s anything-goes truth-be-damned style has corrupted how Evangelicals handle disagreements with each other.

[McLean Bible Church pastor David] Platt said church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque. In a second vote on July 18, all three nominees cleared the threshold [for election]. But that hardly resolved the conflict. Members of the church filed a lawsuit, claiming that the conduct of the election violated the church’s constitution.

Platt, who is theologically conservative, had been accused in the months before the vote by a small but zealous group within his church of “wokeness” and being “left of center,” of pushing a “social justice” agenda and promoting critical race theory, and of attempting to “purge conservative members.” A Facebook page and a right-wing website have targeted Platt and his leadership. For his part, Platt, speaking to his congregation, described an email that was circulated claiming, “MBC is no longer McLean Bible Church, that it’s now Melanin Bible Church.”

BTW, clicking that right-wing website link, and then other links from there, is eye-opening. You’ll find yourself in a scary mirror world where a diabolical “woke” politics is taking over everything, including Evangelical institutions. And notice in the quote above how “social justice” has become a bad thing, something you don’t want to be accused of.

Speaking of insanity, check out Joy Pullmann’s “For Christians, Dying From Covid (or Anything Else) Is a Good Thing” over at The Federalist. Her main point is that churches should hold services and the faithful should attend them, independent of anything we know about how diseases spread.

Christians believe that life and death belong entirely to God. There is nothing we can do to make our days on earth one second longer or shorter: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” says the Psalmist.

I have to wonder if this is her position in general, or an ad hoc view she takes purely with respect to Covid. For example, does she stop her children when they start to wander into traffic? If she does, what does she think she’s accomplishing?

On the other hand, maybe her article isn’t insanity. Maybe it’s just bullshit.

Trump has a new scam: his own social network. And it’s off to such a good start.

Back in November, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced a reward for evidence leading to convictions for voter fraud in the 2020 election: He had $1 million of campaign money to offer, and would give a minimum of $25K to each whistleblower.

He was, of course, trying to put meat on the bones of Trump’s bogus claims of fraud. But that isn’t how it has worked out: He awarded his first $25K to a Pennsylvania poll worker who caught a Republican trying to vote twice for Trump. This guy is one of five voter fraud cases being prosecuted in Pennsylvania, four against Republicans.

Nevada also charged a Republican with voter fraud this week: A guy appears to have mailed in his dead wife’s ballot in addition to his own. Four people have been charged in Wisconsin, though we don’t know who they were trying to vote for. (At least one of them seems to have made an honest mistake: He was a felon who was out of jail but hadn’t finished his probation yet. He apparently thought he could vote legally.)


  • Nationwide, very few cases of 2020 voter fraud have been found.
  • The handful of fraudsters who have been identified by party are mostly Republicans.

Neither of those results should surprise anybody. In spite of the claims Republicans keep making, study after study has shown that voter fraud is extremely rare. But Republicans like Dan Patrick have convinced their supporters that millions of Democrats get away with voting fraudulently every year — so it must be easy! Of course a few are going to try to “get even” by voting fraudulently themselves.

Oh, and what about dead voters? Pretty much the same story: Either the claim is false or the case involved people trying to scrounge an extra vote for Trump.

NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg reflects on Angela Merkel’s decision to let a million refugees from Syria and Africa settle in Germany in 2015.

But six years later, the catastrophes predicted by Merkel’s critics haven’t come to pass.

In the recent German election, refugees were barely an issue, and the [anti-immigrant party Alliance for Germany] lost ground. “The sense is that there has been comparatively little Islamic extremism or extremist crime resulting from this immigration, and that on the whole, the largest number of these immigrants have been successfully integrated into the German work force and into German society overall,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution.

“With the passage of time,” Marton told me, Merkel “turned out to have chosen the absolutely right course for not only Germany but for the world.”

and let’s close with something tasty

Lately I’ve been cooking more, which Facebook somehow knows. So I’m being shown more videos about food. I was fascinated by this account of really authentic parmesan cheese.

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  • EricPrinceofFlorin  On October 26, 2021 at 10:18 pm

    Doug, I’d just like to say that I really appreciate weekly summaries like this one where you are clearly enjoying what you do here. Your wry asides are cause for some of my broadest smiles each week. Thanks for sharing your observations with us readers and for making it a joyful experience for yourself. (And I’m very happy to hear your wife is still doing well!)

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