Author Archives: weeklysift

Doug Muder is a former mathematician who now writes about politics and religion. He is a frequent contributor to UU World.

Running Behind

At every crucial moment, American officials were weeks or months behind the reality of the outbreak. Those delays likely cost tens of thousands of lives.

– “How the Virus Won
The New York Times (6-25-2020)

 

The president thinks so much about what he’s doing in terms of the show he’s putting on that there’s been very little attention paid to how the government is functioning. … What does the dog do when it catches the car? Turns out the dog just keeps running and barking. I had this thought in the Lafayette Square madness. Trump puts on this show. And then he gets there and has nothing to do. He’s just standing there. His whole presidency is like that.

Yuval Levin

This week’s featured post is “Back to Square One“. The reason there was no Sift last week was that I was virtually talking to churches in Illinois and Wisconsin (which answers the Firesign Theater question: “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”). The topic was “Hope and Realism in Difficult Times”. You can read the text and watch my dress rehearsal.

This week everybody was talking about the virus breaking loose again

That’s the topic of the featured post. Here are some extras that didn’t make it into that post.


A reporter at Oklahoma Watch tested positive for Covid-19 after covering Trump’s Tulsa rally. Ever the objective observer, the reporter says, “I can’t say definitively that I got it at the rally.”


McSweeney’s provides “A Message from Your University’s Vice President for Magical Thinking“.

Our university will proceed as if everything will be okay because we really, really want it to be.

It goes on from there.


Wednesday night was an interesting lesson in the divergence of American news bubbles. If you watched any of the major evening news shows on CNN or MSNBC, the main story was that the number of new Covid-19 cases in the United States had hit a new high that day, with new state records in the biggest states: California, Florida, and Texas. The second major story was that whistleblowers had testified to the House Judiciary Committee about political interference in Bill Barr’s Justice Department. (See below.) Those two stories dominated the conversation.

Throughout the evening, though, I would occasionally jump over to Fox News to see what stories Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham thought were most important. I didn’t watch any of those shows end-to-end, so I can’t definitely say they never mentioned the two stories that were dominating the other news networks. But I never caught them talking about either one. Instead, they wanted to talk about the excesses of the protests that were still going on in many major cities: statues being pulled down, the CHOP autonomous zone in Seattle, and so on. These were presented as very scary developments; our cities are dissolving into chaos.

To see if I was hearing this right, I bopped over to FoxNews.com. And yes, there was a story about the rising coronavirus case numbers — down in the third level of headlines. The impression I got was that, if you really must know about the spread of the virus, they would tell you; but they weren’t going to insist that you pay attention.

The image below was FoxNews.com Thursday morning. There are no stories about either the virus-case spikes or the Justice Department whistleblowers in the top two rows of headlines, or near the top of the two sidebars. The sidebar headlines you can’t make out are “Iraq War vet on destroying statues: ‘We don’t solve problems via mob rule'”, “Trump touts powerful alliance and relationship with Poland”, “Dr. Nesheiwat: ‘Exciting’ experimental COVID vaccine proved ‘robust immunity'”, and “Ari Fleischer: ‘We’re having the summer of violence’, you’re seeing one-sided lawlessness”.

In the main column, you had to go down to the 13th headline to find “L.A. mayor reveals ‘troubling trend’ after uptick in coronavirus cases“. (I’ve noticed this since: If Fox does talk about the rising case numbers, it focuses on blue California rather than red Texas or purple Florida.) And your reward for going that far was a 2fer in the 14th story. You could vicariously indulge both your virus-denial and your racism by reading: “Arizona councilman chants ‘I can’t breathe’ before ripping off face mask“.

FoxNews.com Thursday morning

and Russia offering bounties to kill American troops

The New York Times broke the story Friday:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter. …

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

Several other news organizations have independently corroborated parts of this scoop. CNN was told a similar story by “a European intelligence official”. ABC got it from “a military official”, The Wall Street Journal from “people familiar with” a “classified American intelligence assessment”, The Washington Post from “officials”, and so on. So nobody is willing to identify a source, but it’s pretty clear the NYT didn’t just make this up; other news organizations looked for a source and found one.

The Post added this important detail: actual American deaths.

Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.

Trump and various other top officials spent the weekend using a Sergeant Schultz I-know-nothing defense. Sunday morning — what took him so long? — Trump tweeted:

Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @Mark Meadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported by an “anonymous source” by the fake-news @nytimes. Everybody is denying it and there have not been many attacks on us.

Marcy Wheeler points out that Mark Meadows wasn’t Chief of Staff at the time, which “makes it clear that whoever wrote this tweet didn’t actually refer to any records.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe tweeted:

I have confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday.

Ratcliffe himself was took office at the end of May.

The Times insisted otherwise on Saturday:

But one American official had told The Times that the intelligence finding that the Russians had offered and paid bounties to Afghan militants and criminals had been briefed at the highest levels of the White House. Another said it was included in the President’s Daily Brief.

John Bolton happened to be on Jake Tapper’s Sunday show anyway to promote his book, so he got to comment:

The fact that the President feels compelled to tweet about the news story here shows that what his fundamental focus is, is not the security of our forces, but whether he looks like he wasn’t paying attention. So he’s saying well nobody told me therefore you can’t blame me

CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd described this as “gross incompetence any way you cut it”.

It would be disastrous not to get to the bottom of this. Either someone sat on this intelligence, or the President didn’t pay attention, or he decided to do nothing about it. Worse than doing nothing, Trump has continued to carry water for Putin internationally: At the beginning of this month, Trump was still pushing to get Russia invited to the G7 meetings. And regardless of who knew what when, Trump has heard about it now. Is he going to once again take Putin’s word over US intelligence and say it’s not true? Is he going to do anything about it?

and Justice Department corruption

An appeals court ruled 2-1 that the judge must accept the Justice Department’s decision to drop the Michael Flynn case, in spite of all the reasons to think that undue political influence was at work. So: obstruction of justice works.

In addition, Attorney General Barr got rid of the US attorney heading SDNY, which has been investigating several Trump-related cases. Rudy Giuliani is rumored to be under investigation, and the trial of his former friends Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman  is supposed to begin in February. Barr had previously gotten rid of the US attorney in DC, which is how Roger Stone’s sentencing memorandum got rewritten.

Congress heard testimony from two Justice Department whistleblowers. Prosecutor  Aaron Zelinsky testified that “What I saw was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from every other defendant. … This leniency was happening because of Stone’s relationship with the president.” And John Elias alleged political interference in antitrust cases.

and Biden’s huge lead

Biden has held a lead over Trump in head-to-head national polls more-or-less from the beginning of this race, but those leads almost always came with two caveats:

  • It’s way too early to take polls seriously.
  • Even if he wins the national popular vote by as much as 5%, he might still lose in the Electoral College.

But in recent weeks Biden’s lead has extended to 9.4% in 538’s polling average and 9.2% in Real Clear Politics’ differently weighted average. The most recent NYT/Siena poll has him ahead of Trump 50%-36%. That’s enough to put the Electoral College out of reach. 538’s state-by-state analysis now has Florida as the “tipping point”, the state that puts Biden over the top. He leads there by 7.4%.

In addition to the polls, there are anecdotes, like 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina supporting Biden over Trump.

Democrats are constantly reminding each other not to be complacent, so I’ve been seeing references to Mike Dukakis’ 17-point lead over George Bush in July of 1988, a race Bush ultimately won by nearly 8%. That’s not a compelling parallel, though: Dukakis was relatively unknown compared to Biden, so his public image was easier to tar with negative ads. Also, Bush’s approval had been near 90% during the First Gulf War, so most voters could at least remember a time when they thought he was a good president. Trump, conversely, has never had majority approval.

The real reason to maintain focus, though, is that Trump bound to try to cheat. His claim that mail-in ballots are inherently unreliable is false, but it justifies his followers in whatever shenanigans they can come up with. The bigger Biden’s margin is, the harder it will be for fraud to take it away.


The failure of Trump’s Tulsa rally made me think of the entertainment term “jump the shark”. Trump is trying to run his old playbook in a different world, and when confronted with that fact he just tries to push it harder.

In 2016, the country was facing no immediate crises, so culture-war messaging and identity politics could carry the day for Trump. But in 2020, the world looks grim, and the public wants to know that the next president has some idea what to do about it. Trump clearly does not. Witness the word salad Sean Hannity evoked by asking the softball question: “What are your top priorities for a second term?”

As Yuval Levin put it in the quote at the top: Trump is the dog who caught the car, and all he knows to do now is keep running and barking.

and abortion

Just this morning, the Supreme Court blocked a Louisiana law that would have had the effect of closing every abortion clinic in the state. John Roberts crossed over to vote with the Court’s four liberals.

Legally, the case should have been a slam-dunk, because a nearly identical Texas law was thrown out four years ago. The only thing that has changed since then is the composition of the Court, particularly Justice Kavanaugh replacing Justice Kennedy. So this should have been a 9-0 decision: Quote the precedent and move on.

This is the third recent victory for the Court’s liberals, joining the LGBTQ-rights case and the DACA case.

This may sound paranoid, but I have the feeling John Roberts is setting up something awful in the remaining big case concerning Trump’s taxes. Roberts has some control over the order in which decisions come out, and it would fit his pattern to buffer the pain of a horrible decision by releasing more popular decisions first.


Meanwhile an appeals court held that Trump’s emergency seizure of otherwise allocated funds to build his border wall is invalid.

The panel held that the Executive Branch lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds. The panel noted that the Appropriations Clause of the U.S. Constitution exclusively grants the power of the purse to Congress. The panel held that the transfer of funds violated the Appropriations Clause, and, therefore, was unlawful.

… The Federal Defendants cite drug trafficking statistics, but fail to address how the construction of additional physical barriers would further the interdiction of drugs. The Executive Branch’s failure to show, in concrete terms, that the public interest favors a border wall is particularly significant given that Congress determined fencing to be a lower budgetary priority and the Department of Justice’s own data points to a contrary conclusion.

and Trump’s push to invalidate ObamaCare

The Justice Department has filed a brief in a case about ObamaCare that the Supreme Court will decide in its next term. It argues that the whole law is unconstitutional, and would have the immediate effect of throwing tens of millions of people off of their health insurance, as well as making tens of millions of other people worry about their pre-existing conditions.

Naturally, Trump claims these horrible outcomes would never really come to pass, because once ObamaCare has been tossed aside he will finally reveal the magic replacement plan he has been talking about for five years without revealing any details.

In his entire first term, we have seen no sign of the “beautiful” health plan that Trump promised would replace ObamaCare, the one that would “cover everybody” and leave nobody worse off financially.

By now it should be obvious that Trump never had a plan; he was just stringing words together. Republicans in general have no plan. That became obvious when they tried to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare in 2017. “Replace” was just a word that polled well; it meant nothing.

If Trump gets his wish and the Supreme Court invalidates ObamaCare, no fairy godmother will tap a pumpkin and turn it into a Republican healthcare plan. ObamaCare will just be gone and nothing will replace it until Democrats get back in power.

BTW: If you’re a young person who has recovered from Covid-19, or who imagines that recovering from it would be no big deal: Decades from now, you would still have a pre-existing condition. Your insurance company might point to any subtle scarring on your lungs or other long-term organ damage as a reason not to cover whatever health problem you might have then.


Biden responded to Trump’s attack on ObamaCare with a good speech on health care.

and DC statehood

The House voted to make Washington D. C. a state. The bill is expected to go nowhere in the Senate and Trump has promised to veto it.

This is a voter suppression issue. The District of Columbia has a population over 700K, which makes it bigger than Wyoming or Vermont, and not far behind Alaska and North Dakota. But DC is 49% black and only 44% white. It would be a reliably blue state with two Democratic senators and a congressperson. (Let’s not even get into Puerto Rico, which would be the 31st-largest state, between Utah and Iowa. But, I mean, they’re Puerto Ricans! Can’t give them a say in how the national government is run.)

It doesn’t take much interpretation to see that the Republican opponents are saying those people shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Here’s Mitch McConnell:

They plan to make the District of Columbia a state—that’d give them two new Democratic senators—Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators. […] So this is full bore socialism on the march in the House. And yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.

Socialism on the march … yeah, it must have been Karl Marx who described governments as “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“.

And Tom Cotton:

Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and ten times as many workers in manufacturing. In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state.

So people in Wyoming work for a living, unlike all those bureaucrats and welfare mothers in DC. The WaPo’s Karen Tumulty responds.

Wyoming is an interesting example. Nearly half of Wyoming’s territory is federal acreage — a much higher proportion than in the District (less than one-third). And among states, Wyoming ranks top in the nation when it comes to the percentage of its workforce employed by federal or local governments.

Which makes you wonder what, precisely, is the senator’s criterion for deeming a group of people “well-rounded.”

Cotton also raised the argument that the kind of people who live in DC are just not ready for self-government.

Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?

Why not just go ahead and use the N-word, Tom? You know you want to.

you also might be interested in …


The New York Times does a great job of annotating video to show how police over-reaction in Seattle turned a peaceful demonstration into a violent encounter.


It looks like Mississippi is going to remove the Confederate stars-and-bars from the state flag.


#ByeIvanka is a bit harsh, but you have to wonder at the administration’s decision to make her the face of skills-based hiring. The implication seems clear: The federal government is doing away with “outdated career or licensure requirements” so that it can hire more relatives of well-connected people.


I’ve written before about defunding the police: It makes sense to divert some large portion of local police-department budgets to fund other kinds of first-responders, who can answer 911 calls that don’t require guns or handcuffs, like marital disputes or mental health problems. Those incidents might get handled better, and fewer people will wind up dead.

However, we need to watch out for a trap: The Covid-19 crisis and the ensuing economic collapse have made a shambles of local budgets; expenses are up and revenues are down. There’s going to be pressure to cut across the board, including laying off teachers and not fixing potholes.

In this environment, the path of least resistance is to substantially cut the police budget, as protesters have been demanding, but not to fund any alternative first-responders. That scenario looks like the nightmare painted by right-wing critics of police defunding — you call 911 and no one answers. When that turns out badly, as is bound to happen somewhere, it will be easy to convince the public that the defund-the-police approach has been tried and discredited.

and let’s close with a marching tune

March, March” from the trio formerly known as The Dixie Chicks. Here are the lyrics.

Back to Square One

This week the number of new Covid-19 infections spiked up to even higher levels than before the shutdown. Other governments have avoided this scenario, but ours has no plan for dealing with it.


What if we have a crisis? In one of the less-noticed parts of John Bolton’s new book, Chief of Staff John Kelly complains that he is frustrated to the point of quitting. “What if we have a real crisis like 9/11,” Kelly asks Bolton, “with the way he makes decisions?”

As Bolton — like so many other former Trump insiders before him — demonstrates with numerous examples, “the way he makes decisions” is to start from a place of complete ignorance. (Prior to his ill-fated Helsinki meeting with Putin, he asked aides whether Finland was part of Russia. He also seemed not to know that the United Kingdom has nuclear weapons.) Then he ignores the briefings that come from the intelligence community or other government experts, and doesn’t ask for any studies or position papers from people the government employs to do research like that. Instead, he spends hours each day talking to friends on the phone and listening to the pundits on Fox News. If he hears something he likes, maybe that becomes government policy immediately, or maybe it turns into a line he uses at rallies. If the rally-goers cheer, then that’s what the world’s greatest superpower will do.

If you think there ought to be a more rigorous process than that, you must be part of the Deep State.

This is how we got the border wall project. No one who studies border security for a living ever concluded that a wall between the US and Mexico was the most efficient way to accomplish some desirable goal. But Trump’s 2016 campaign advisers decided he needed a “mnemonic device” to get him to focus on immigration. Any realistic plan to deal with unwanted border-crossings is full of the kind of legal, diplomatic, environmental, and other details Trump hates, but “Build a Wall” was simple enough to hold in his head, and the crowds loved it — especially when he added the fantasy that Mexico would pay for it.

Those cheering crowds are why some adviser’s mnemonic device is turning into a physical wall that takes years to build, costs billions of dollars, and doesn’t solve any identifiable problems. We just lucked out that Trump wasn’t still holding rallies when the inject-yourself-with-bleach idea got into his head.

Own-goal crises. The reason Bolton and Kelly were having a what-if conversation rather than recalling an actual disaster is that until that point the United States had been having an extraordinary run of good luck. You may remember these last three-plus years as a high-wire state of constant national anxiety, but in fact the real world was unusually tame. Barack Obama had handed Trump a country in pretty good shape, particularly compared to the one Obama had received from George W. Bush. All the major economic trends were in the right direction, Obama’s light-footprint strategy to defeat the ISIS caliphate was working, and so on. Obama did leave behind a number of worrisome long-term challenges, like climate change, the ascension of China, nuclear proliferation, the decades-long decline of America’s middle class, and so on. But no one really expected Trump to make progress on any of that, and on any given day all those problems have been pretty easy to ignore.

Instead, what made the pre-Covid Trump years feel so tense were the crises Trump created himself: He ratcheted up his “fire and fury” rhetoric against North Korea to the point that war seemed inevitable, and then arranged a marvelous reality-show resolution when he “fell in love” with Kim Jong Un, a performance so compelling that Trump wanted a Nobel Peace Prize for it. Of course, nothing was actually accomplished by the whole up-and-down cycle (other than some great propaganda for the Kim regime), but didn’t it look grand on TV?

The low points in his approval rating were similarly self-inflicted: when he described the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville as “fine people” or sided with Putin against the US intelligence agencies or couldn’t let go of a spat with a military widow. His China trade war spooked the markets and slowed the economy, but that was also something he brought on himself, so he could create good news whenever he wanted by tweeting about “progress” in the negotiations or delaying some tariff he had threatened to impose unilaterally.

Since those were all holes he dug himself, he could just stop digging, divert the public’s attention elsewhere, and wait for it all to blow over. Easy-peasy.

And then there was the ever-rising budget deficit, which would have been framed as an existential crisis for Obama, but became acceptable once a Republican was in the White House.

Before Covid, Trump only had to face two truly external problems: impeachment and his complete botch of the federal response to the Puerto Rican hurricane. Impeachment was never a big worry for two reasons: First, no matter how guilty he was, the Republican Senate was never going to convict him. (In the end, they decided that the House’s evidence wasn’t good enough to remove a president chosen by 46% of the people, and that if there was better evidence, they didn’t want to see it.) And second, the underlying offense (the extortion of Ukraine) didn’t really matter to Trump’s base. As for the Puerto Rican hurricane, well, that mainly affected Spanish-speaking people of color that the Trump base also didn’t care about. (Yeah, thousands of them are dead, but it’s not like they were ever “real Americans”, right?)

The virus is real. But Covid is different. There’s a real virus out there killing people. It can’t be intimidated by tweets or derogatory nicknames like “Wuhan virus” or “kung flu”. Even though it has been killing people of color at a rate disproportionate to their numbers, it kills white people too. And now it’s even spreading in red states (Texas) or purple states (Florida) that Trump needs to carry if he wants to be re-elected.

Trump has no plan to defeat the virus, but that’s par for the course. He doesn’t have a plan to deal with any of America’s problems. For example, he’s still promising a “FAR BETTER AND MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE ALTERNATIVE” to ObamaCare, and to “ALWAYS PROTECT PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS,ALWAYS!!!” But in the five years since he came down the escalator, he has not produced so much as a back-of-the-envelope sketch of a program to deliver on such promises. I’m sure the words in those capitalized phrases sound good to him and his fans, but as soon as the sound waves fade out the air is empty again.

Like his bromance with the North Korean dictator, Trump’s coronavirus briefings also made good TV for a while, but eventually they became embarrassing and he got bored with them. So he applied his usual crisis-control tactic: He congratulated himself for defeating the virus, which is “dying out“; flattered or browbeat Republican governors to reopen their states too early; stopped talking about the whole crisis, even as additional thousands of Americans continued to die each week; tried to divert our attention elsewhere; and waited for it all to blow over.

But here’s the thing: Reality doesn’t blow over. Covid-19 isn’t a PR flap or a misstep he can back away from, it’s a pandemic. For a short time, he may be able to get large segments of the public to “ignore that pile of dead bodies over in the corner” (as Bill Gates put it), but people keep dying even when everyone’s looking the other way, and eventually we start to notice again.

Comparisons. Covid-19 started out in China in December, and from there spread around the world, taking different courses in different countries. Some small countries with good leadership and a strong public spirit — New Zealand, Iceland, and South Korea pop to mind — reacted quickly, got the epidemic under control, and continue to hold it in check through a combination of testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and public cooperation in preventive measures like mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing.

A number of EU countries, beginning with Italy, had really bad outbreaks, but then shut down just about all activities other than food distribution and medical care, using their national wealth and strong social-welfare systems to keep individual and family budgets above water. After a month or two of extreme sacrifice, the number of new infections began to collapse, to the point that they can now make use of the tactics that the fast-reacting countries used.

And then there’s the United States, where Covid-19 became the kind of crisis Kelly had been worrying about. Here’s how our daily reported new infections compared with the EU and South Korea as of Saturday.

South Korea’s infections stayed down. The EU’s went up and came down. But in the United States infections went up, started to creep down a little, and then shot back up.

What did we do wrong? A lot of things. Thursday The New York Times presented an illuminating series of graphics describing about how the virus spread in the US.

At every crucial moment, American officials were weeks or months behind the reality of the outbreak. Those delays likely cost tens of thousands of lives.

A short list of early failings:

  • The CDC’s initial set of test kits were faulty, and tests were not imported to fill the gap, resulting in what the NYT described as “the lost month“. This was both a CDC failure and a White House failure, because it’s the role of the White House to keep tabs on the workings of the government and intervene when something important is falling through the cracks in the system.
  • As a result, the initial spread of the virus was grossly underestimated. The NYT article suggests that in mid-February, when the US had 15 known cases (that Trump said “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero“) there were actually around 2,000 cases spread across ten major cities.
  • Unlike other countries, the US did not use its lead time to build its stockpile of masks and gowns for medical personnel, as detailed by HHS whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright.
  • The federal government did not prepare the public for the sacrifices that would eventually be asked of it. Instead, officials from President Trump on down consistently reassured the public that the virus was “totally under control” and “the risk is low”.
  • Trump began politicizing the virus response early, charging on March 9 that “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant.”

By mid-March, states began to respond, with Republican Governor Mike DeWine shutting down schools in Ohio, Democrat Andrew Cuomo closing businesses in New York, and local health officials in six San Francisco Bay counties issuing a shelter-in-place order. A national campaign to “flatten the curve” began. Even Trump got on board for a month or so, rewriting history to claim: “I’ve always known this is a real, this is a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

Undermining the national will. The number of new cases reached an initial peak of 33,000-a-day in early-to-mid April and then began to slope downward. But unlike Europe, the United States lacked the national will to finish the job.

That failure came from the top. As soon as it was clear a peak had been reached, Trump began pressuring states to relax restrictions and reopen their economies without waiting to achieve the milestones listed in his administration’s own guidelines.

Trump encouraged armed demonstrators to intimidate state governments. When protesters with rifles came to the Michigan statehouse carrying signs saying “Tyrants get the rope”, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”. He also encouraged “liberators” in Virginia and Minnesota. Without once calling for the protesters to disarm, he tweeted:

The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.

Michigan more-or-less held firm, but Republican governors in red states knew they could not survive a Trump tweet storm and could benefit from White House photo ops. Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Arizona began to open their economies without achieving the statistical milestones laid out by the CDC. When the Republican members of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court invalidated the Governor Ever’s stay-at-home order and plunged the state’s gradual-reopening plan into chaos, Trump was jubilant.

The Great State of Wisconsin, home to Tom Tiffany’s big Congressional Victory on Tuesday, was just given another win. Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!

Meanwhile, he was campaigning against wearing masks, which nearly all public health officials recommend when people are unable to maintain social distance. He mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask in public, and for “cowering in the basement” rather than holding face-to-face events. Trump refused to wear a mask while touring a mask factory in Arizona, even as “Live and Let Die” played on the sound system.

Long after it had become clear that the reopenings were premature and cases were spiking, Trump pushed to hold dangerous large-crowd events in Tulsa and Phoenix. (Fortunately for the nation, the crowd in Tulsa was not nearly so large as he had expected.) In Tulsa, he discounted the rising case numbers, arguing (falsely) that they just reflect increased testing, and offering a 10-year-old with “sniffles” as an example of a case. He said he had asked his administration to “slow down the testing”, and later contradicted aides who tried to downplay that suggestion as a joke. “I don’t kid,” he told reporters.

This anti-social leadership has had its effect: Around the country outraged people, many sporting MAGA hats or Trump shirts, are refusing to abide by rules that mandate mask-wearing or social distancing. Michelle Goldberg summarizes:

This is what American exceptionalism looks like under Donald Trump. It’s not just that the United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world. Republican political dysfunction has made a coherent campaign to fight the pandemic impossible.

The viral resurgence. New infections have been rising sharply in precisely the southern and western states that have reopened quickly, refuting the theory (which Trump had long promoted) that the pandemic would fade in warm weather. Nationally, cases had flattened out at less than 20,000 per day in late May and early June. But they have been above 38,000 each of the last five days.

On the state level, the best measure for comparison is the 7-day-weighted-average of new cases per day per 100K people. Here are the most seriously affected states:

Arizona 44

Florida 30

South Carolina 25

Mississippi 23

Arkansas 20

Louisiana 20

Nevada 19

Texas 19

California also has an large number of cases, due partially to its size. Its daily-new-case-per-100K number is 12. New York, which was the center of the epidemic in April, is down to 3.

And as for Trump’s attempt to discount those numbers, 10-year-olds with “sniffles” don’t show up in the ICU. Hospitals are reportedly close to capacity in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, and perhaps other states getting less national attention.

The Washington Post assesses what went wrong in Arizona:

At critical junctures, blunders by top officials undermined faith in the data purportedly driving decision-making, according to experts monitoring Arizona’s response. And when forbearance was most required, as the state began to reopen despite continued community transmission, an abrupt and uniform approach — without transparent benchmarks or latitude for stricken areas to hold back — led large parts of the public to believe the pandemic was over.

And now, Arizona is facing more per capita cases than recorded by any country in Europe or even by hard-hit Brazil. Among states with at least 20 people hospitalized for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, no state has seen its rate of hospitalizations increase more rapidly since Memorial Day.

And Republican governors or not, Texas, Florida, and Arizona have all had to retreat on their reopening timetables.

Deaths haven’t turned back up yet, but they will. The one saving grace is that nationally, deaths are still declining. For weeks I’ve been commenting on the mystery of how the death rate could continue downward while the new-case rate flattened and then turned upward.

Med school Professor Florian Krammer points to the same three explanations I’ve given: more testing has raised the new-case rate (or more accurately, made it better match the actual spread of the infection); better care is keeping people alive; but most of all, that the age-distribution of the infected population is shifting to younger people who are more likely to survive.

But he then goes one step further: Something similar happened in Iran in May. The new-case curve had been dropping, but started going up again around May 1.

But deaths did not go up. People explained to me, that now mostly young people are getting infected so nothing bad would happen.

Deaths started going up May 25.

What happened? First, it takes time to die of COVID-19. Second, cases probably really built up in younger people. But they diffuse into older populations. And then the deaths rose.

Each state has its own version of the pandemic, and death rates might already have started upward in some of them, like Arkansas and Texas. (The curves are jittery enough that it’s hard to be sure.) But nationwide, the new-case curve started rising around June 10. That would suggest deaths will begin rising about July 4.

Similar ideas (with a similar timeline) show up on the COVID Tracking Project Blog.

New daily positive cases only began to exceed the plateau of the previous two weeks around June 18-19, which means that an increase in deaths as a result of the rise in new cases would not be expected to show up until July.

So where are we? In some ways, we’re back where we were in April, and in some ways we’re worse off. Except in the northeast, whatever we gained through the sacrifices of the shutdown has been frittered away by bad leadership.

So now John Kelly knows: What happens if we have a real crisis “with the way he makes decisions”? This.

What is needed at this point is another wave of restrictions, and every state that thinks it is about to reopen its bars or arenas needs to think again. The American people can’t be trusted in bars; that is now a proven fact, at least until we have a vaccine. But a second wave of stay-at-home orders is hard to feature given that most of the country has nothing to show for the first wave.

We also need the kind of public spirit we had in the early days of “flatten the curve”: We need to encourage each other to wear masks, avoid crowds, keep our distance, and in general use common sense. Unfortunately, this is very unlikely to happen now that flouting common sense is necessary to establish your identity as a Trump conservative.

As best I can tell, this hasn’t happened in any other country (except maybe Brazil, which is also in very bad shape). Things got bad in Italy and Spain, but taking stupid risks never became a political identity.

And that reminds me of another famous question, this one raised by Trump himself in the 2016 campaign. “What the hell do you have to lose?

Now we know.

The Monday Morning Teaser

So I was off for a week. Did I miss anything?

Two weeks ago, the rise in Covid-19 cases nationally was still debatable, and even the outbreaks in states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas could be optimistically interpreted as blips that happened to coincide, but didn’t necessarily add up to a trend. Now it’s clear we’re back in the soup nationally, and it’s the Northeast, where cases are still flat or declining, that looks like the anomaly.

In some ways, we’re worse off now, because the President is AWOL, the federal government has no plan, and common-sense measures the public needs to take — like mask-wearing and avoiding crowds — have turned into culture-war issues. Instead of leading a patriotic response to the virus, the President is out there promoting anti-social anti-public-health activities like large-scale political rallies. All the expense and sacrifice of the lockdown seems to have been wasted, except in the Northeast and a few counties near San Francisco.

Lots of other stuff has been happening, but that’s the most serious development, which I’ll discuss in “Back to Square One”, which might not be out until 11 EDT. The weekly summary then somehow has to cover the revelation that Putin offered bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan (and Trump has done nothing about it), the ongoing story of the corruption of the Justice Department, the huge lead Joe Biden is building in the polls, Trump’s push to get the Supreme Court to invalidate ObamaCare, and DC statehood. I’ll try to find space to mention Mississippi changing its flag and an appeals court ruling against Trump’s border-wall emergency, which might have been lead stories in more normal times. And then I’ll close with a new video by The [formerly known as Dixie] Chicks.

Let’s predict that to appear around 1.

Causes and Effects

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on June 29.

Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.  … Ignorance/hate → racist ideas → discrimination: this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It has actually been the inverse relationship — racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate.

– Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning

This week’s featured post is “What’s in a Slogan?

This week everybody was still talking about policing

The featured post discusses the “Abolish the Police” slogan.

With the George Floyd protests still continuing, there’s been a new police killing:

Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot dead on Friday night after police were called to [a Wendy’s in Atlanta] over reports that he had fallen asleep in the drive-through lane.

Apparently Brooks failed a sobriety test and struggled with police. He grabbed a police taser and was running away with it when a policeman opened fire. The NYT reconstructs the incident in detail from video.

In addition to the question of why it was necessary to shoot a man who was running away, the case illustrates some of the issues that abolish-the-police activists have been raising: Yes, falling asleep in a drive-through lane is a violation of public order. But why is sending people with guns the right response?


Demonstrations in the US have inspired anti-racism demonstrations overseas. Thousands of Germans formed a ribbon-connected “socially distant human chain” in Berlin on Sunday. And here’s a quote that brings me shame: A German politician says the demonstrators have it wrong. “Germany is not the USA. We don’t have a racism problem in the police.” We’re the nation other nations don’t want to be compared to.


Charles Blow reviews the positive imagery we have seen since the death of George Floyd, images in which people of all colors and ethnicities seem united in their response to police brutality and racial injustice. But the police are not the cause of injustice, racial or otherwise. They are the enforcers of systemic injustices that continue.

This country has established a system of supreme inequity, with racial inequity being a primary form, and used the police to protect the wealth that the system generated for some and to control the outrages and outbursts of those opposed to it and oppressed by it.

It has used the police to make the hostile tranquil, to erase and remove from free society those who expressed sickness coming from a society which poisoned them with persecutions. …

But just remember: These are not necessarily rogue officers. They are instruments of the system and manifestations of society.

They are violent to black people because America is violent to black people. They oppress because America oppresses.

The police didn’t give birth to American violence and inhumanity. America’s violence and inhumanity gave birth to them.

The point of books like The New Jim Crow and Slavery by Another Name is that systems for controlling black people and expropriating the value of their labor don’t just morph from era to era, they morph cleverly. In Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi argues that new racist ideas don’t bubble up from the ignorant masses, they are constructed by some of the most brilliant and educated minds of the time.

Any system of inequality requires justification and enforcement. If you have more than someone else or enjoy privileges they are denied, you crave an explanation that exonerates you from their resentment and protects your advantages. Some intelligent person will soon satisfy that craving with the justification and enforcement mechanism required. Like junkies determined to kick our current habit, we must be careful not to just shift to a new drug.

and the virus

Death totals continue to decline, while the number of new cases is at best flat and possibly increasing. The total number of US deaths is up to 117.9K, up from 112.6 last week.

The contrast between cases and deaths is even more pronounced in certain states. Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and a few other states now have more proven new cases each day than ever before — more than double in Arizona — but they had more deaths per day in early May.

I can think of a few possible explanations:

  • Even though there’s still no sure-fire treatment for Covid-19, doctors are getting better at keeping people alive long enough for their immune systems to beat the virus.
  • Maybe we’re getting better at protecting the most vulnerable. Perhaps the new cases are mostly young otherwise-healthy people, so they’re dying at a lower rate.
  • Because there was less testing in early May, maybe there were more infections then than anyone realized.

In any case, unless there’s some breakthrough in treatment, this pattern can’t go on forever. If cases keep increasing, eventually deaths will start increasing too.


In case you’re wondering how to stay safe when your office reopens, Mike Pence has provided us with a great don’t-do-this photo.

Thanks to Trump campaign staffers in Virginia, we can see all the major no-nos in one picture: enclosed spaces, large numbers of people in one room, and standing close to people not wearing masks.


Trump intends to give us another bad example: A big indoor rally in Tulsa on Saturday. Originally the rally was scheduled for Friday, which is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery. Tulsa would be a particularly bad place to mark Juneteenth, given the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, where whites burned a prosperous black neighborhood to the ground and killed hundreds of African Americans.

Eventually, Trump backed off of the Juneteenth date. Instead, the rally will happen on Saturday, with crowds packed together indoors and probably very few masks. But the Trump campaign has thought about this and taken precautions to protect itself:

“By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the disclaimer reads at the bottom of the ticket page on the Trump website. “By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”

and the Supreme Court

I haven’t had time to read the decision or even digest the news stories, but CNN is reporting this:

Federal civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender workers, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The landmark ruling will extend protections to millions of workers nationwide and is a defeat for the Trump administration, which argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination based on sex did not extend to claims of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The 6-3 opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices.

Gorsuch is the shocker here. I don’t know what to think.

and symbols of the Confederacy

160 years ago, the white aristocracy of 11 states led them into revolt to preserve their mastery over millions of enslaved Africans. That revolt led to a war in which more than 600,000 soldiers died. Today, those wealthy traitors are honored in numerous ways, such as flying their flag, honoring their statues, and immortalizing their names by attaching them to military bases, schools, and other civic institutions. Descendants of the enslaved people are constantly reminded of the slavers who expropriated their ancestors’ labor, and of the continuing legacy of white supremacy.

You’d think that changing all this would be uncontroversial, but you’d be wrong. Still, one result of the wave of protests that followed George Floyd’s murder has been a further erosion of the honors devoted to the Confederacy.

  • Protesters in Richmond toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Governor Northam announced that a statue of Robert E. Lee owned by the state will also be removed.
  • The mayor of Birmingham pledged to finish removing a statue of Confederate sailor Charles Linn that protesters attacked. Birmingham has tried to remove Confederate statues in the past, but the state legislature passed a law blocking the city. The mayor is daring the state to enforce its law.
  • NASCAR announced: “The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.” The policy came in response to a request from the racing circuit’s only African American full-time driver, Bubba Wallace. NASCAR has requested that fans not bring Confederate flags since 2015, but some have continued to do so.
  • Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would give the Defense Department three years to rename the military bases that currently are named after Confederate officers. “The language, adopted by voice vote as President Donald Trump preemptively threatened to veto any defense bill that did just that, affects massive bases like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia. But it also goes further and includes everything from ships to streets on Defense Department property.”
  • Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill to remove statues of 11 Confederate generals and officials from the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the bill because the choice of statues belongs to the states. (Each state gets two.) Apparently no Georgian in history is a more appropriate choice than Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Confederate Vice President who gave the famous Cornerstone speech: “Stephens said the Confederacy was founded ‘upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition’.”

I’m sure I missed some recent developments. The pro-Confederate (i.e., Republican) responses to these proposals has generally been that liberals are trying to “take away our history“, or that next we will have to remove monuments to all slave-owning or otherwise objectionable figures.

My answer to the “rewrite history” objection is that there’s a difference between marking history and making heroes out of the defenders of slavery. If “history” is the point of monuments, then there ought to be a gigantic monument to General Sherman in Atlanta: He was one of the Civil War’s greatest generals, and his victory in Atlanta was a decisive moment in the war. There isn’t such a monument because Atlanta’s white population hates Sherman for his role in burning the city. And yet, the South’s black population is supposed to tolerate monuments to men who fought to keep their ancestors enslaved.

Andrew Egger answers the next-they’ll-come-for-George-Washington objection.

There’s a world of difference between purging monuments to anyone with a complicated history (FDR, Wilson, Jefferson) and purging monuments to those who are *only deemed historical* for acts we now correctly deem shameful. What did Nathan Bedford Forrest ever do for America?

If, say, Robert E. Lee had never fought to preserve slavery, would anyone remember him today? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. George Washington led the revolutionary forces and was a key figure in establishing a government that followed its constitution. But what accomplishment of Jefferson Davis is unrelated to slavery?


Vote Vets has this to say about military bases like Fort Bragg.

 

and Antifa

We’re getting a lesson in just how far Trumpists are willing to go to justify his paranoid rants. The local news site Columbus Alive tells the wild story of how a busload of traveling street performers got “outed” by Columbus Police as Antifa provocateurs.

The police reported finding knives (kitchen knives), a hatchet (for the wood stove), and clubs (juggling clubs). The police social media post — with a picture of the decorated bus — got shared thousands of times, and the performers are now constantly being hassled by Trumpists who think they’ve found Antifa.


Another set of paranoid rants concerns the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (formerly the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) in Seattle. It’s a six-block area that has been taken over by protesters, and which state and local officials have decided to tolerate. Thursday, Trump tweeted this threat:

Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!

Trump’s propagandists have been working hard to demonize the CHOP ever since. The Seattle Times explains:

Fox News published digitally altered and misleading photos on stories about Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in what photojournalism experts called a clear violation of ethical standards for news organizations.

In one photo of a gateway to the CHOP, Fox digitally inserted an image of a guard armed with a military-style weapon. After the Times called them on it, Fox took down the faked image.

In addition, Fox’s site for a time on Friday ran a frightening image of a burning city, above a package of stories about Seattle’s protests, headlined “CRAZY TOWN.” The photo actually showed a scene from St. Paul, Minnesota, on May 30. That image also was later removed.


After Trump promoted the notion that the elderly man assaulted by Buffalo police was actually an Antifa provocateur, the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri assembled the warning signs that your grandparent is a secret Antifa agent. The most telling:

She belongs to a decentralized group with no leadership structure that claims to be discussing a “book,” but no one ever reads the book and all they seem to do is drink wine.

Is always talking on the phone with an “aunt” you have never actually met in person. Aunt TIFA????

Always walking into rooms and claiming not to know why he walked into the room. Likely.

Suddenly, for no reason, will appear or pretend to be asleep.

Remembers things from the past in incredible, exhausting detail, but recent ones only sporadically? Cover of some kind.

Antifa is everywhere and nowhere. (Well, mostly nowhere, but never mind.) We can’t be too careful.

but we should pay more attention to the International Criminal Court

The US has long had a problem with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. US officials don’t want to give the ICC jurisdiction to prosecute incidents that it might see as US war crimes in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Trump administration has just escalated that conflict considerably.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday sanctioning members of the International Criminal Court, the global judicial body investigating American troops for possible war crimes during the Afghanistan war.

The provocative move targets court staff involved in the probe, as well as their families, blocking them from accessing assets held in US financial institutions and from visiting America. Top members of the Trump administration — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper — made the announcement with surprisingly forceful language to make their point.

“We cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop, travel, and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defenders of those very freedoms,” Pompeo, a former Army officer, told reporters without taking questions.

and the Flynn case

Remember where we are and how we got here: Trump’s then-National-Security-Adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador during the transition period. He pleaded guilty to that crime, but his sentencing was delayed until he had assisted the government in other cases.

Somewhere along the line, he stopped cooperating and moved to withdraw his guilty plea. Then the Justice Department tried to drop the indictment — after the prosecutors who had been on the case from the beginning withdrew.

The Justice Department has total discretion about who it decides to prosecute, but once a case goes to court, withdrawing the indictment requires “consent of the court”, i.e., of the judge. The judge in this case wasn’t inclined to rubber-stamp either the Justice Department’s motion or Flynn’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (It is highly unusual to withdraw a guilty plea after the sentencing process has started.) So Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed a retired judge, John Gleeson, to argue why the charges should not be dismissed. That report is now in, and it is truly damning.

Gleeson argues that the Justice Department’s explanations for wanting to dismiss the charges are just pretexts that are not credible. (For example, the Department now claims it doubts it can prove a charge that Flynn has already confessed to under oath.)

The reasons offered by the Government are so irregular, and so obviously pretextual, that they are deficient. Moreover, the facts surrounding the filing of the Government’s motion constitute clear evidence of gross prosecutorial abuse. They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump. …

The Executive Branch had the unreviewable discretion to never charge Flynn with a crime because he is a friend and political ally of President Trump. President Trump today has the unreviewable authority to issue a pardon, thus ensuring that Flynn is no longer prosecuted and never punished for his crimes because he is a friend and political ally. But the instant the Executive Branch filed a criminal charge against Flynn, it forfeited the right to implicate this Court in the dismissal of that charge simply because Flynn is a friend and political ally of the President. Avoiding precisely that unseemly outcome is why Rule 48(a) requires “leave of court.”

Flynn and the Justice Department have tried to get an appeals court to intervene and prevent Judge Sullivan from looking into the Justice Department’s motives. So far, it looks like the appeals court wants to see the lower-court process conclude before weighing in.


Flynn, meanwhile, published a head-scratching op-ed in The Western Journal on Thursday. His opening line says America is at a “seminal moment” that will “test every fiber of our nation’s soul”. He then has several paragraphs about God and prayer and freedom, and denounces the “tyranny and treachery” that are “in our midst”. But through it all he never says anything specific enough to allow me to figure out what he’s talking about. Then he concludes:

As long as we accept God in the lifeblood of our nation, we will be OK. If we don’t, we will face a hellish existence. I vote we accept God.

Digby pronounces it “batshit crazy“, and I can’t really argue. If you can make any sense out of it, leave a comment.

and you also might be interested in …

Trump gave his West Point graduation speech. It was a boiler-plate graduation speech: You’re great; your school’s great; your parents and teachers have done a great job; you’ll go on to do great things. Why this had to happen in person during a pandemic is still mysterious.

A couple of odd motions during his West Point appearance started speculation about Trump’s health.


The Atlantic’s David Graham reports on how much money — campaign money and tax money alike — is being spent just to make Trump feel better about his situation. For example, the campaign has been running ads on cable news shows in the D.C. area. This makes no political sense, since D. C. and Maryland are not swing states, and the northern suburbs of Virginia (which probably isn’t a swing state any more either) aren’t where Trump needs to turn out his voters. Obviously, the campaign is running those ads so that Trump himself will see them, and feel like his campaign is out there defending him.


If, like me, you’ve lost track of all the places the US has troops, it turns out that the President is supposed to keep Congress informed about that. Here’s the latest letter, sent Tuesday.

and let’s close with a Confederate general worth commemorating

The founder of Dogpatch: Jubilation T. Cornpone. If you want to know his legend, listen to this number from the 1959 musical Li’l Abner.

What’s in a Slogan?

Democrats may reach consensus about the future of policing more easily than they reach consensus about what to call that vision.


If the demonstrations set off by the murder of George Floyd (and now possibly extended by the killing of Rayshard Brooks) are going to be more than just a way to blow off steam, they have to lead to substantive change in the ways America enforces its laws. As I laid out last week, some reforms are already happening. Cities and states across the nation are banning chokeholds, instituting new procedures for reporting incidents of excessive force, and making it easier to identify and prosecute police officers who step over the line.

Is that enough? While those reforms are welcome and overdue, it’s hard to be confident that they will solve the problem, which goes to the heart of how police function in America: They are heavily armed, are inclined to escalate conflicts rather than de-escalate them, and reflexively cover for each other when rules are broken. Making more rules may not help, as long as police are motivated to help other police get away with breaking those rules. The pseudonymous author Officer A. Cab of “Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop” testifies:

“All cops are bastards.” Even your uncle, even your cousin, even your mom, even your brother, even your best friend, even your spouse, even me. Because even if they wouldn’t Do The Thing themselves, they will almost never rat out another officer who Does The Thing, much less stop it from happening.

… I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.

Police also cost a huge amount of money. Bloomberg estimates:

Over the past four decades, the cost of policing in the U.S. has almost tripled, from $42.3 billion in 1977 to $114.5 billion in 2017

The number of violent crimes peaked in 1993 and is down by more than 1/3 since then, but police budgets have continued to eat up about 3.7% of all state and local spending. That figure does not include the estimated $81 billion spent on prisons or the $29 billion spent processing people through the criminal courts. Some large cities spend considerably more than 3.7%: New York City budgets about $5.9 billion, which is more than 6% of its total spending.

Given all that, a surprisingly wide range of people are proposing a very simple idea: What if we just had fewer police?

The predictable backlash. That suggestion is easy to exaggerate and demonize.

Here’s an obvious attack ad to run against any politician who endorses it: Some white woman reenacts her totally true story of hiding in the closet with her toddler and calling 911 while strange men ravage her home. The invaders run away when they hear sirens approaching, and she and her boy emerge unharmed. She expresses her perfectly genuine gratitude to the helpful and reassuring officers who arrive on her doorstep. (I’d make one of the cops black, just to insulate against charges of race-baiting.)

Then a male narrator says: “Julie and Luke escaped their harrowing experience without a scratch, and the damage to their home was soon repaired. But if Senator Liberal Democrat had his way, no one would have answered her desperate call.” [A busy signal gets louder and louder as the camera slowly zooms in on the window the invaders broke to enter.] “Far-left politicians like Senator Democrat want to fire Officers Good and Noble, and slash the budgets of their departments. Let’s fire Senator Democrat instead, before the call that goes unanswered is yours.” [visual fade to the sound of an annoyingly loud busy signal]

It’s no wonder that people planning to have their names on ballots in the fall — people like Joe Biden and Jim Clyburn — have been running away from the “Abolish the Police” or “Defund the Police” slogans. A recent YouGov poll (scroll down to page 58) says that only 16% of the public favor cutting police budgets, while 65% oppose such cuts. So it’s also no wonder the Trump campaign is already running this ad:

 

But think about it. The fewer-police proposal isn’t just that we get rid of police and do nothing else. The point is that interrupting crimes in progress and arresting dangerous suspects is a very small part of what police do. If we let them concentrate on stuff like that, and didn’t load them down with every public problem that their cities don’t have covered some other way, we wouldn’t need nearly so many of them. Minneapolis Councilman Steve Fletcher explained the council’s pledge to “dismantle” the MPD.

What we’re trying to change is how we answer 911. So many of the calls that we currently send police officers with guns would actually be better served by mental health professionals, by social workers, by outreach workers, by conflict resolution specialists.

This already happens in certain cases: If you call 911 and say your house is on fire, they don’t send police, they send a fire engine. If you say somebody is having a heart attack, they send an ambulance with EMTs. If a bear is rummaging through your garbage or a rabid raccoon is in your driveway, you might get connected to an animal-control department. There’s no reason cities couldn’t also have specialized emergency responders for many situations they currently handle by dispatching police: drug overdoses, domestic arguments, loud parties, homeless people camping out someplace they shouldn’t, and so on.

Friday night’s shooting of Rayshard Brooks is a case in point: The original problem was that he fell asleep while his car was parked, partially blocking a Wendy’s drive-through. Did someone with a gun need to handle that? If someone without a gun had been sent — the kind of plan San Francisco is rolling out, and a few smaller cities are already trying — Brooks would probably still be alive.

Even most criminal investigation doesn’t really need a policeman, or at least not an armed one. Typically, police show up in the aftermath of a crime: Your car has been stolen, or you came home to find your house had been burglarized. The perpetrators are long gone. Armed police come, but what the situation really calls for is someone with the skills of an insurance adjuster — someone who can take your statement, shoot some photos, collect some evidence, and write a report. Guns shouldn’t be necessary until it’s time to make an arrest, and maybe not even then.

The Washington Post assembled this graphic summary of what police do in a major American city:

In short, the fewer-police proposal is also a more-people-to-handle-stuff-the-police-should-never-have-been-asked-to-do proposal. And police departments’ funding gets cut, not to punish them, but because the money for those other specialists has to come from somewhere.

Some of that work would be preventive rather than responsive. For example, if a city put real resources behind finding each homeless person a home (like they do in Finland), police (or whoever) wouldn’t have to answer so many calls about them. (The homeless are probably a large chunk of that “suspicious person” block in the graphic.)

And one final point from Georgetown law professor Christy Lopez:

Once we begin to undertake this inquiry [of rethinking public safety], we quickly see that there are some things that police are doing that nobody should be doing, such as enforcing laws that criminalize poverty and addiction, arresting people instead of issuing citations, writing tickets to raise revenue rather than protect the public, and using armored vehicles to evict women and children from a home they have occupied to protest homelessness.

Political activism vs. electoral politics. “Abolish the Police” is probably a great slogan if you want to raise energy for a protest, but across most of the country it would be a suicidal slogan for a political campaign.

A good issue-activist slogan is provocative in much the same way that online clickbait is. It draws your attention, maybe shocks you a little, and pulls you into the discussion if only to argue against it. Once drawn in, you may consider ideas you had never thought of before, and the activists may elaborate their proposals in ways that make them more reasonable than they originally sounded.

To a large extent, that’s working. I have lost count of the number of articles I’ve read explaining that “Abolish the Police” and “Defund the Police” don’t really mean “abolish the police” or “cut their funding to zero”: Somebody would still answer 911 calls, and if the needed response was for armed warriors to show up — say, in an active shooter situation — the city would still have some on the payroll. As Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing told NPR:

I’m certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police.

(Then again, some people really do mean “Abolish the Police”.)

Would I have read those articles and considered those ideas if they had just been labeled “police reform” or something equally bland? Maybe not.

But while it makes sense for an issue activist to shock you with a slogan and then explain the nuances later, that’s an insane strategy for a politician trying to get elected. Ronald Reagan was right: If you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Issue-oriented activists tend to underestimate the importance of low-information voters in electoral politics. But those voters are why every campaign works hard to oversimplify its opponents’ positions to the point of absurdity, and then to get those simple absurdities into the minds of voters who can’t be bothered to consider the complicated details.

In 1988, for example, Mike Dukakis had a huge lead in the polls after the Democratic Convention. But George H. W. Bush caught up and won handily on the strength of two “issues”: Mike Dukakis hates the Pledge of Allegiance, and Mike Dukakis will let big black dudes rape your wife. Both were nonsense, but explaining why they were nonsense derailed Dukakis’ whole message. He had to keep explaining, and so he lost. Bush’s 53% of the vote is more than any presidential candidate has gotten since.

Trump and Biden. You can already see Trump pushing a similar oversimplification on immigration policy: Democrats want “open borders“. None of the Democrats running for president in this cycle endorsed “open borders”, and I can’t think of a single Democrat in Congress who has even said the phrase. But nonetheless it’s a staple of Trump rhetoric: If Democrats take over, the Mexican border will be left completely unmanned and unprotected.

He has been helped in this effort by liberal activists who pushed the slogan “Abolish ICE”. Now, “Abolish ICE” doesn’t mean “leave the border unprotected”, but it sounds like it does. If you tell low-information voters that Democrats want open borders, and illustrate with demonstrators waving “Abolish ICE” signs, they’ll be convinced.

Similarly here, “Abolish the Police” or “Defund the Police” doesn’t mean “You’re on your own if a criminal attacks you.” But it sounds like it does. If I tell a low-information voter that Joe Biden won’t protect him from criminals, and then cut to a video of Biden saying “Abolish the police”, he’ll be convinced.

And that’s why Biden will never say, “Abolish the police.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn elaborates:

If you’re talking about reallocating resources, say that. If you mean reimagining policing, say that. If you’re going to reform policing, say that. Don’t tell me you’re going to use a term that you know is charged — and tell me that it doesn’t mean what it says.

California Governor Gavin Newsom explored the limits of how far a mainstream politician can go:

California Governor Gavin Newsom [said] Wednesday that while he’s not interested in “eliminating police,” he’s open to considering how a police officer’s role in a community could change.

“If you’re talking about reimagining and taking the opportunity to look at the responsibility and role that we place on law enforcement to be social workers, mental health workers, get involved in disputes where a badge and a gun are unnecessary, then I think absolutely this is an opportunity to look at all of the above.”

Is there any good electoral slogan here? Personally, I’m frustrated that no simple English verb expresses the idea I want. No everyday verb means “Expand other things so that one particular thing gets crowded out.” I can’t even think of a good metaphor to express that notion.

I agree with the abolition supporters that “reform” is too tepid. We’ve been reforming police for a long time now, and yet we still have George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. I can’t claim that nothing has changed, because Floyd’s killer is charged with murder when so many killer officers have previously gone uncharged. The Brooks incident has already pushed the Atlanta police chief to resign, and charges against the officer are expected soon. Stuff like that didn’t used to happen. But the unnecessary deaths continue, and (even assuming the reforms currently on the table become law) I can’t say when they’ll stop.

What is stronger than “reform”, but doesn’t have the unfortunate implications of “abolish”? I don’t have a good candidate. Some people are saying “dismantle”. “Reconstitute” might work. I’m tempted to steal a word from the business world, and talk about “downsizing” the police.

Another option might be to talk about “the police state” rather than just “the police”. Americans have ambivalent feelings about police, but nobody likes a police state. (Trump loves to defend the police, but defending the police state would be a gift to his enemies.) “Police state” would capture the idea that black neighborhoods are over-policed, and would also tie in to the idea of mass incarceration. It points to the observation that we currently deal with all kinds of social problems (like homelessness or addiction) through the police rather than through more appropriate institutions.

Downsize the police? Dismantle the police state? End policing as we know it? None of them strikes me as an election-winning slogan, but they’re the best I can do.

Do activists and politicians need to say the same words? Another way to look at this is to let activists advance issues and let politicians win elections. Activists could keep saying “Abolish the police”, and no electoral harm would be done as long as they understood that no national figure could say it with them. The redefinition of police and of public safety is going to have to happen locally anyway. Maybe the best thing the federal government can do is stay out of the way.

Maybe it could be enough for Biden and other major Democrats in the fall election to say things activists could interpret positively, while still holding back from “Abolish the police”, as Governor Newsom did. Maybe it would be enough if Biden could say something like “The beauty of our federal system is that cities and states are free to experiment and try new things. If some of them want to find creative ways to deliver public services, and if they want to develop a new vision of how to ensure public safety, then a Biden administration will try to work with them.”

But maybe it wouldn’t be enough. Trump won in 2016 by pounding two wedges: a “corruption” wedge between Hillary Clinton and the center-right, and a Bernie-was-robbed wedge between Clinton and left. He’s going to try the same thing again. “Abolish the Police” works for him either way: If Biden agrees with the slogan, that becomes a wedge separating him from the center. If he doesn’t, it’s a wedge separating him from the left.

So that’s the question activists will be left with: Is it enough for Biden to indicate a general sympathy with their movement (when Trump is steadfastly against it), or does he have to repeat their words?

The Monday Morning Teaser

Anti-racist and anti-police protests continued this week, and Atlanta police gave the protesters a new martyr: Rayshard Brooks, who drew police attention by falling asleep in his car, and was shot to death while running away. The national conversation about how to stop excessive police violence (particularly against people of color, but occasionally against whites also) continued to progress, ranging from simple reforms like banning chokeholds to more radical proposals that have gathered under the umbrella of the slogans “Abolish the police” and “Defund the police”.

Those slogans themselves are what drew my attention this week. Like many liberals, I support most of the proposals that the police-abolitionists put forward, but I shy away from endorsing the slogans themselves. I was happy to hear Joe Biden refuse to support abolishing or defunding the police, because I believe a Biden blunder like that is one of the few ways Trump could salvage his re-election. So I’ll discuss the divergent interests of issue activists and politicians trying to get elected in the featured post “What’s in a Slogan?” That should be out before 10 EDT.

The weekly summary will cover the continued demonstrations, the Rayshard killing, Covid-19’s refusal to go away for the summer, the debate over Confederate monuments and memorials, developments in the Flynn case, and Trump’s moves against the International Criminal Court. Then I’ll close with a musical tribute to a great Confederate general. That should be out somewhere between noon and 1.

Order and Conflict

The police are the armed guardians of the social order. The blacks are the chief domestic victims of the social order. A conflict of interest exists, therefore, between the blacks and the police.

— Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (1968)

This week’s featured posts are “This Week, Democratic Protest Outlasted Riot and Repression” and “How Should American Policing Change?“.

This week everybody was talking about police and protest

The two featured posts are my attempt to cover that. I did want to add a response to those conservatives (like Tom Cotton) who think the presence of rioters is a reason to unleash the military on protesters:

Whenever there’s another mass shooting, and suddenly 20 first-graders are dead at Sandy Hook, or 58 concert-goers in Las Vegas, or 49 night-clubbers in Orlando — you tell us that nothing can be done about the weapons of mass killing the perpetrators use. All those people who use similar guns legally and responsibly, you say, have Second Amendment rights. We can’t take their rights away just because a few criminals misuse them.

Now we see protesters by the hundreds of thousands across this country exercising their First Amendment rights legally and responsibly. But because a few criminals use those demonstrations as cover to destroy or steal property, you want the the military to take away the rights of the law-abiding majority, and perhaps to kill them if they won’t cooperate.

We liberals sympathize with the property owners in the same way that you sympathize with the survivors of mass shootings. But there is an enormous hypocrisy in your position. If no drastic steps can be taken to solve the far more deadly problem of mass shootings, then surely they can’t be taken now. We have a Constitution, and you can’t pick and choose when to apply it.


While we’re talking about Cotton, his screed prompted some soul-searching at the New York Times. How, the internal critics wondered, are The Times’ readers edified by hearing window-breakers and looters described as an “insurrection” that requires a federal military intervention overruling local officials? Or that protesters (the vast majority of whom are nonviolently exercising their constitutional rights) should meet “an overwhelming show of force” that includes combat troops?

The official answer is that The Times’ opinion pages should provide a window into the policy debate the country is having, and not just reflect the liberal worldview of The Times’ editors or typical readers. But while that answer seems to make sense at first glance, two responses (picked out by James Fallows) call it into question.

Times columnist Michelle Goldberg notes that The Times has in the past provided space to enemies of liberal democracy like Vladimir Putin and Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but that neither of them was “given space in this newspaper to advocate attacks on Americans during moments of national extremis.” If The Times’ opinion pages are attempting to define “the boundaries of legitimate debate”, some points of view need to be kept outside the pale.

I could be wrong, but I don’t believe The Times would have published a defense of family separation by former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during the height of that atrocity, or a piece by the senior Trump aide Stephen Miller about the necessity of curbing nonwhite immigration. In both cases, I’m pretty sure the liberal inclination to hear all sides would have smacked up against sheer moral abhorrence.

But Fallows’ second choice is even more insightful: David Roberts‘ charge that the NYT is promoting a false image of conservatism. The Times’ conservative voices — David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss — are “alienated from the animating force in US conservatism, which is Trumpism.” Publishing their words “might serve the purpose of challenging liberal thinking”, but they don’t expose Times readers to actual conservatism.

The signal feature of the 2016 election is that it settled the question of whether US conservatism — the actual movement, I mean, not the people in Washington think tanks who claim to be its spokespeople — is animated by a set of shared ideals and policies. It is not. …

[A]nyone who is devoted to the conservative intellectual tradition, anyone who thinks of themselves as a conservative through devotion to small government and traditional morality, has had to peel off. There is no way to pretend that Trump represents that tradition; he himself does not even try. So how many of these “true” conservatives did there turn out to be? Almost none!

What unites conservatives today, he says, are resentments, not ideas.

Not everyone involved is driven by tribal resentment, not every Trump voter indulges in misogyny or racism, but every member of the current conservative coalition has decided that those things are acceptable, or at the very least, not disqualifying — less important than lower taxes or immigration crackdowns.

Even if they do not share Trump’s ignorant, hateful impulses, even if they do not endorse his careening, incompetent governance, even if they do not countenance the grotesque corruption of his family and his administration, they support the coalition that enables those things. They are supporting a tribe with a strongman leader, not a set of ideas.

There’s no argument for that, nothing to plausibly fill an editorial page.


I think Trump’s total unfitness to be president requires Joe Biden to run a different kind of campaign. So many presidential roles are going unfilled that the country needs Biden to be a shadow president instead of a mere candidate. He does a pretty good job of that while discussing the George Floyd murder in this video.

I’d also like to see Biden start appointing a shadow government, so that his appointees could respond similarly when appropriate. Not just a vice president, but an attorney general, as well as secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury.


We’re in one of those weird moments where the big-corporation CEOs seem to be ahead of the conservative politicians who represent them.

I was fascinated to hear this CNBC interview with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. In particular the part where he stands broken-windows policing theory on its head.

There’s a philosophy that Rudy Giuliani made prominent about “broken-windows policing”. And what’s the whole premise of this? You walk into a neighborhood and you see a lot of broken windows; it just sends a signal that we are tolerant of crime. And the question I have is: Do we have policies within law enforcement that send a signal that we are tolerant of discrimination?

And a classic example is racial profiling. If I were to use those kinds of policies within AT&T, I would rightly be terminated, fired, and probably sued. But we allow, we actually have systems, we have procedures that allow for racial profiling. And what does that say? That says — just like broken windows — we have a tolerance for racial discrimination in law enforcement.

and the virus

This week the total stands at 112.6K deaths, up from 106K last week. That increase of 6.6K compares to last week’s 7K increase. So the number of new deaths is still headed downward, but seems to be leveling off.

The number of new cases has at best leveled off and might be increasing. As I’ve pointed out before, that’s a battle between two trends: the sinking number of cases in the states hit early, like New York, and a rising number in states that were initially spared, like Texas.

All of that discussion happens before we see any effect of the crowds gathered to protest George Floyd’s death. Incubation time of the virus is usually 1-2 weeks, and it often takes another week before a person notices symptoms, gets tested, and appears in the statistics.


An NYT editorial on reopening public schools does a better job summarizing the problems than suggesting solutions.


Trump’s demand that his acceptance speech take place in a packed arena has sunk the plan to hold the Republican Convention in Charlotte. As you can see above, North Carolina is one of the states where the number of cases is on the rise, so Democratic Governor Roy Cooper was not willing to approve a big, contagion-spreading event. Florida is the leading contender to get the dubious prize of a thrown-together-at-the-last-minute convention, but speculation that Trump will hold it at one of his own properties seems off-base. Jacksonville is the current favorite, and a decision is needed soon.

and the jobs report

Unemployment went down in May, when many experts were expecting it to go up. It’s still at 13.3%, or maybe 16.3%, depending on how you handle a tricky data problem.

People who are on temporary layoff are supposed to be classified as unemployed. For reasons that we’re not really sure a lot of those people were, in fact, classified as employed.

But the same mistake happened last month, so the drop in unemployment seems real, even if the level is unclear.

and a few Republicans edge away from Trump

A number of military leaders criticized Trump this week, some in very stark terms. His former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wrote:

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. … We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.

Former Chief of Staff and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he agreed with Mattis, and then added:

I think we need to look harder at who we elect. I think we should start, all of us, regardless of what our views are in politics, I think we should look at people that are running for office and put them through the filter. What is their character like? What are their ethics? Are they willing, if they’re elected, to represent all of their constituents, not just the base, but all of their constituents?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell:

We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the president has drifted away from it. … I think he has been not an effective president. He lies all the time. He began lying the day of inauguration, when we got into an argument about the size of the crowd that was there. People are writing books about his favorite thing of lying. And I don’t think that’s in our interest.

Senator Romney will not support Trump’s re-election. Senator Murkowski described General Mattis’ statement as “true and honest and necessary and overdue”. But then she said she was “struggling” with whether to support Trump in the fall election. That’s the fundamental Republican problem right now. It seems bizarre to think it’s “overdue” for someone to say that Trump has “made a mockery of our Constitution”, and yet to have any struggle at all about opposing him. Murkowski seemed to be saying that she knows what to think, and that many of her Republican colleagues think the same thing, but that she and they are still trying to gin up the courage to say publicly what they think and then act on it.

When I saw General Mattis’ comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.

I can’t imagine admitting to that level of cowardice. But even that — hinting that you have criticisms, but can’t bring yourself to act on them — is an act of relative courage among the current crop of GOP senators. Many of them seem to be edging up to a line, and then looking around to see if anyone else is crossing it.

In a PBS interview, Senator Thune of South Dakota hinted at criticism, but did not actually voice it: Peaceful protesters should be allowed to speak. The country needs a “healing voice” that is not coming from the White House. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said

there is a fundamental — a Constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.

But he doesn’t go anywhere with that thinking.

Time is running out on them. If they let the election arrive without taking a clear stand, they might as well be gung-ho Trumpists. History won’t care that they had an inner voice of conscience, if they never listened to it. They are not dissidents; they are collaborators.


The American people seem to be shifting, even if GOP senators are not. A CNN poll out today has Trump’s approval rating dropping from 45% a month ago to 38% now. Biden’s lead over Trump is 14%, the highest it has ever been, up from 7% last month.

and you also might be interested in …

Rod Rosenstein testified at the show trial Lindsey Graham is running in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rosenstein took a middle position that I’m sure satisfied no one. He defended the Mueller investigation, and the reasons for launching it. But he repeated the Bill Barr lie that Mueller proved their was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

What Mueller actually said was that he could not prove there was a criminal conspiracy. One reason he couldn’t prove it was summarized in Part II of his report: Trump obstructed justice.


Rep. Steve King, the white supremacist congressman from Iowa, lost the Republican primary Tuesday. Come January, he’ll be out of Congress.


King’s loss might make you think the Republican Party is returning to sanity, but that would be a mistake. In Oregon, a QAnon conspiracy theorist won the Republican primary for the Senate, and will challenge Jeff Merkley in the fall. In a field of four candidates, Jo Rae Perkins got 49% of the vote.

After the George Floyd protests started, she was live on Facebook for an hour and a half, which Right Wing Watch edited down to less than two minutes. In it, she prays:

Lord, these people have no sense of morality, of what is right and what is wrong, Lord God. Not the ones that are causing this mayhem, Lord God, this Antifa, Father God. Shut down George Soros, Lord God. End his reign of terror, Lord God. We know that he is funding this. Lord, we say. “Strip that money, strip that money strip that money.” If there is a way, Father God, that President Trump’s administration can block him from being able to spend any more money, Lord God, then allow that to happen.

Of course, we have the usual right-wing-nut-job ravings about Antifa conspiracies funded by Soros’ dirty Jewish money. But even beyond that, there’s the pervasive hypocrisy about federal power. She spends a bunch of her 90 minutes talking about the principle of limited government and all the federal laws and projects she doesn’t believe the Constitution allows. But Trump taking away Soros’ money or tightly controlling how he can spend it — that would be the answer to a prayer.

A constitutional republic for me, tyranny for thee. And remember: This is not just some crazy woman I picked off of Facebook. This is the Republican candidate for one of Oregon’s two seats in the U. S. Senate.


Trump’s scaremongering about Antifa has real consequences. A family who tried to go camping in rural Washington ran into a town anticipating Antifa “infiltrators”. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

and let’s close with something remastered

If you find it hard to listen to Trump, try letting Sarah Cooper provide the visuals.

How Should American Policing Change?

“Actually, we’re just getting started.”

This week it’s been easy to assemble video collections of misbehaving police. The current crisis began with a Minneapolis policeman killing George Floyd — not instantaneously, by shooting him in a moment of confusion or fear, but slowly, by kneeling on his neck as his life ebbed away. In the two weeks since, we’ve seen phalanxes of militarized police attack angry but non-violent crowds of protesters on multiple occasions. Friday, the NYT’s Jamelle Bouie put together a list:

Rioting police have driven vehicles into crowds, reproducing the assault that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. They have surrounded a car, smashed the windows, tazed the occupants and dragged them out onto the ground. Clad in paramilitary gear, they have attacked elderly bystanders, pepper-sprayed cooperative protesters and shot “nonlethal” rounds directly at reporters, causing serious injuries. In Austin, Texas, a 20-year-old man is in critical condition after being shot in the head with a “less-lethal” round. Across the country, rioting police are using tear gas in quantities that threaten the health and safety of demonstrators, especially in the midst of a respiratory disease pandemic.

That list is sadly incomplete. For example, Bouie’s “elderly bystander” is not the one you’re thinking of. These bystanders are in Salt Lake City, not Buffalo. The video Bouie linked to also shows an old man being pushed to the ground, but he falls on his chest rather than striking the back of his head.

It is tempting to keeping throwing more and more videos at the dead-enders who refuse to see the widespread problem in American policing. But those who are not convinced by now will probably never be convinced, and in the meantime we have let them freeze the conversation. Something similar happens with climate change: A handful of stubborn denialists can freeze a conversation at the is-it-real stage, and prevent reality-based people from discussing what to do about it.

It’s time to ignore the dead-enders and move forward without them.

More than a few bad apples. It also time to start ignoring people who make the few-bad-apples argument, as White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien did recently. If there were no systemic problem, that handful of bad cops would be easy to identify and remove from the force. (Don’t tell me the other cops don’t know who they are.) But the problem is not just the occasional officer who violently abuses his power; it’s all the other cops who cover for him and resist any attempt to hold him accountable.

The initial police statement on George Floyd mentioned nothing about Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, but was titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” When Buffalo police shoved a 75-year-old protester — a white man, in this case — who hit his head on the pavement and soon had blood pooling around his ear, their initial statement said:

A 5th person was arrested during a skirmish with other protestors and also charged with disorderly conduct. During that skirmish involving protestors, one person was injured when he tripped & fell.

In both cases, that false account probably would have stood if not for bystander video, leaving us to wonder how many police assaults and murders are routinely covered up — not just by the “bad apples” who commit those crimes, but by the criminally complicit police around them.

The Buffalo situation demonstrates an even deeper rot. When bystander video showed that the police report was a lie, Buffalo’s police commissioner suspended without pay, pending investigation, the two officers who pushed the man down. (The officers who knowingly allowed a false report to be issued have not been punished.) But even this small move towards accountability was too much: All 57 fellow active members of the Buffalo Police emergency unit resigned from the squad (but not from the police).

“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” Buffalo Police Benevolent Association president John Evans told WGRZ on Friday.

Their orders were to clear the square of protesters, not to assault old men. (The two officers were charged with assault Saturday. Over 100 police and firefighters showed up at the courthouse to support them.) But not a single member of the emergency unit looked at that video and said, “Hey, we shouldn’t be doing things like that.” They have chosen their side. There aren’t two bad apples on that squad; there are 57 bad apples. There’s probably no bureaucratic mechanism that can bring about this outcome, but none of them should ever be police anywhere again. (According to the local ABC TV channel, though, two of the 57 claim the union manipulated this outcome by saying they could no longer defend members of the emergency unit under these conditions.)

What can be done? We need to be thinking on multiple time scales. Some significant changes need to be announced immediately, while the crowds are still in the streets. But problems this deep and old resist quick fixes. So the country needs a long-term plan, but that plan has to visibly begin right now.

In Minnesota. In the specific case of George Floyd’s murder, most of what the protesters want has already been achieved: All four officers involved have been arrested and charged. Derek Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, and the other three face aiding-and-abetting charges. Unless we want to see the officers handed over for mob justice, that’s all that can be done right now. The legal process will play out over months, and ultimately a jury will have to decide what happens to them.

More broadly, the Minnesota Commissioner for Human Rights filed suit against the City of Minneapolis and its police department on Tuesday, claiming that

the City of Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of race-based policing in violation of the [Minnesota Human Rights Act]

Friday, the Commissioner and the City agreed to a plan that they have asked the Court to impose as an injunction. The plan has six provisions:

  • Ban chokeholds and neck restraints of any kind.
  • Police officers who witness another officer’s unauthorized use of force have an immediate duty to report the incident to their commanders.
  • Police officers who witness another officer’s unauthorized use of force have a duty to intervene “by verbal and physical means“, or face the same punishment as the offending officer.
  • Crowd control weapons (chemical agents and rubber bullets are specifically mentioned) can only be used after authorization by the Chief of Police.
  • Pending disciplinary actions must be decided within 45 days. Future actions have to be decided within 30 days.
  • The City’s Office of Police Conduct Review can audit body-camera footage “proactively and strategically”. (Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucerno explains: “Right now, body cam footage exists. However, it’s only reviewed when there’s a complaint.”)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his own proposal, which requires action from the legislature:

  • Make police disciplinary records transparent
  • Ban chokeholds
  • Make false race-based 911 reports a hate crime
  • Attorney General must act as independent prosecutor for any police murder case

Several other states and cities have announced plans to ban either chokeholds or tear gas or both.

8 Can’t Wait. Campaign Zero is an organization devoted to ending police violence. It put out the “8 Can’t Wait” agenda, of steps any city could take right away. (The “Data proves …” claim in the graphic below is theirs, not mine. I have not tried to evaluate it.)

Matt Yglesias explains the 8 in more detail, and looks at some of the supporting statistics. Some are easy to understand: banning chokeholds and the duty to intervene are already part of the Minneapolis agreement discussed above. The ban on shooting at moving vehicles and requirement to warn before shooting are self-explanatory.

A comprehensive reporting requirement means that officers need to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against a civilian. … The use of force continuum is a specific set of requirements governing what kinds of weapons can be used versus what levels of resistance. And a deescalation requirement mandates that officers try to secure their personal safety through distance and communication before resorting to force.

Medium-term proposals. A number of ideas are included in the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which Democrats in the House and Senate are introducing this morning. It’s hard to imagine Mitch McConnell allowing any of these reforms to be passed in time to bring this season of protest to a successful conclusion, but the problem isn’t going away until we have reforms more significant than anything that can happen quickly.

  • a national database of deaths in police custody. It’s hard to believe this doesn’t already exist, but apparently not.
  • a national police misconduct registry. So that bad cops fired in one city can’t just get a new job somewhere else.
  • ending or altering “qualified immunity”. Qualified immunity shelters government officials from civil lawsuits for violating someone’s rights, “unless the victims of those violations can show that the rights were ‘clearly established’.” In practice, this has made such suits almost impossible for plaintiffs to win.
  • changing the standard for police use of force. “victims of excessive force or other violations need only show that officers ‘recklessly’ deprived them of their rights. The current statute requires victims to show that officers’ actions were ‘willful’.”
  • formalize the Justice Department’s oversight of police departments with a history of bad practices. During the Obama administration, Justice took oversight of local police seriously, but when Jeff Sessions became attorney general, he abandoned those efforts.

A change more likely to be made on the state level than the federal level: setting up a special prosecutor or special process for investigating killings by local police. In Minnesota, for example, the state attorney general has taken over the prosecution of the George Floyd officers. Some states already have state guidelines for investigating officer-involved deaths that make sure police departments aren’t investigating themselves. All states should.

And finally, cities need to change their relationships with police unions. In general, unions are good, and collective bargaining for better wages and benefits is fine. But too often police unions intent on protecting their members torpedo any move towards public accountability.

Long term: police culture. Welcome as reforms like those mentioned above would be, many doubt they would solve the problem.

Two aspects of the problem are more complicated than just changing a few rules and hiring better people:

  • The institutional culture of police departments needs to change.
  • The tasks that belong to police departments need to be rethought.

Both of these are too big for a few paragraphs at the end of a long article, but here are some thoughts to get you started.

Friday night, Chris Hayes interviewed Patrick Skinner, a former CIA counterterrorism officer who came home to be a beat cop in Savannah. One of the themes of their conversation was the dysfunction of the “warrior” mentality of police. Skinner said that police would do better to think of themselves as neighbors rather than warriors. In a recent Washington Post op-ed he wrote:

As I got better at being a rookie cop, I kept asking myself this question: “If I didn’t have a badge and a gun, how would I handle this call?” Whatever I came up with that was legal, transparent and kind, I would try.

Hayes reviewed the video of the 75-year-old man being pushed down in Buffalo, and observed that probably none of the officers present would act that way in everyday life: They would not push an old man out of their way, and if they saw an old man bleeding on the pavement, they would stop to help. Somehow, their police training overrode those human reactions.

Long term: defunding. Philip and Thenjiwe McHarris note all the reform efforts by the Minneapolis police — none of which saved George Floyd’s life. They think it’s foolish to expect similar small-scale reforms to end the killing of black people in general.

The focus on training, diversity and technology like body cameras shifts focus away from the root cause of police violence and instead gives the police more power and resources. The problem is that the entire criminal justice system gives police officers the power and opportunity to systematically harass and kill with impunity.

The solution to ending police violence and cultivating a safer country lies in reducing the power of the police and their contact with the public. We can do that by reinvesting the $100 billion spent on policing nationwide in alternative emergency response programs, as protesters in Minneapolis have called for.

In most American communities today, police get called to deal with all manner of disorder, from the homeless man sleeping on your stoop to the loud teen-age party next door to domestic violence to drug overdoses to episodes of mental illness.

But what defines the police is their ability to use force, all the way up to deadly force. Their very presence is a threat of force, and opens the possibility that someone could end up dead. I sincerely doubt that the clerk who called the police on George Floyd intended for them to come and kill him. The store owner now says: “If I was [there] I don’t think the authorities would have been called and we would have policed our own matters.”

Often situations would be better addressed by a civic official with different capabilities, different options, and different training. Or perhaps the disorder would not exist at all if some kind of preventive service had been provided during the previous weeks. But cities don’t have the resources for such alternatives precisely because they’re spending so much money on police.

Moves to cut both the responsibilities and the budgets of police, and to use that money to provide services in alternative ways, are often promoted with slogans like “Abolish the police”. This is poor messaging, in my opinion, and opens itself up to easy caricature from police advocates. (Are cities going to stop enforcing their laws? Should citizens buy more guns and take the law into their own hands?) But what abolish-the-police advocates really want is something far more reasonable: Reduce to the absolute minimum the number of occasions when Americans come into contact with people who could kill them and get away with it.

This Week, Democratic Protest Outlasted Riot and Repression

Fascism got out to an early lead, but a late comeback won the week for democracy.


A week ago, peaceful protests by day were competing with violence by night: violence by protesters, violence by opportunistic looters, violence from mysterious agitators seeking a wider conflict, and violence by police. President Trump seemed to think this unrest worked in his favor politically — perhaps his re-election campaign could ride a wave of white backlash, as Richard Nixon did in 1968 — so he ignored the peaceful protests, denounced the rioters, and focused on “dominating” American streets with overwhelming force.

That cycle peaked Monday. Washington D.C. had no governor with the authority to object, so Trump brought in National Guard units from across the country, and moved 1,600 active-duty troops to nearby bases. (According CNN, those troops were not used; “no active duty forces have entered the city yet to respond to civil unrest.”) CBS News reported a heated meeting at the White House Monday, when Trump demanded that the Pentagon deploy 10,000 active-duty troops in the streets in cities across the country. (To get around the restrictions the Posse Comitatus Act puts on military law enforcement, Trump would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act.) Defense Secretary Esper, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley all opposed the idea.

But if the Army wasn’t deployed, another ominous force was: unidentified federal police, who would say only that they came from the Department of Justice. They had no name tags or other means of identification, and hence zero accountability. One protester nailed the issue:

God forbid if there’s an escalation of violence and there’s a video circulating of an officer using his baton on a protester, and there’s no way to identify who that officer is,

Also Monday morning, after a conversation with his autocratic mentor, Vladimir Putin, Trump berated governors in a teleconference, calling them “weak” if they did not call out the National Guard and “dominate the streets”.

Trump also claimed to know the sinister conspiracy he needed to dominate: Antifa, which Wikipedia describes as “a diverse array of autonomous groups”. Trump is often best answered by laughter, so the satire site Beaverton posted: “ANTIFA surprised to discover it is an organization“.

“All this time all I thought I was doing was taking direct action to fight nazis,” stated self-professed anti-fascist Mattheus Grant of Eugene, OR. “But when I learned that I’m actually a member of an organization, I got so excited! Maybe we can get an office now?”

More seriously, The Nation obtained a situation report on the D.C. protests from the FBI’s Washington field office (WFO):

based on CHS [Confidential Human Source] canvassing, open source/social media partner engagement, and liaison, FBI WFO has no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence.

So either Trump knew more than the FBI, or he just made this up.

The photo op. Trump’s photo-op stunt with an Episcopal Church as a backdrop and a Bible as a prop happened Monday evening.

That PR gimmick began a half hour before curfew with an attack on peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. After the crowd was cleared away, Trump walked from the White House to St. John’s Church to have his photo taken holding up a Bible. Brandishing the Bible like a weapon seemed to be the only use he could think of.

Leaders from The Episcopal Church have condemned the reported use of tear gas and projectiles to clear clergy and protesters from the area around St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House, so President Donald Trump could use it for an unauthorized photo op on June 1.

Video of the attack is disturbing in some places and boring in others, but I recommend watching chunks of it, particularly after the 30-minute mark when the police begin moving the crowd.

What I see in that video are angry but entirely non-violent demonstrators, mostly young adults and a surprising (to me) number of whites. Police push them back with gas, exploding projectiles, shields, and horses.

Perhaps even more disturbing was the baldly false statement issued by the Park Police afterwards:

At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids. … As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls. No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park

The video shows none of this, and none of the journalists covering the demonstration saw it. In the video, the police look entirely undisturbed. They do not flinch to avoid projectiles, and nothing bounces off their shields. After the police begin to fire gas and advance, I noticed two or three water bottles hit the pavement in front of them. The bottles hit with a splash — they are not frozen — and do not hit the police. No one appears to be trying to grab police weapons.

As the week went on, more and more people in the administration claimed to have nothing to do with the decision to launch this attack. No one was responsible. Not Mark Esper. Not General Milley. Not even Bill Barr. Success has many fathers, the proverb says, but failure is an orphan. By that standard, Trump’s church-and-Bible photo op was a failure.

Damage to America’s standing in the world. If you think this combination of factors — calling out the military against protesting crowds, blatant lying, secret police, using low-flying military helicopters to intimidate dissidents, attacking journalists, and denouncing imaginary conspiratorial enemies — sound like the kind of autocratic response to dissent that the US usually condemns, you’re not the only ones who noticed. The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen, who learned about autocracy by studying Putin, described it as “the performance of fascism“.

A power grab is always a performance of sorts. It begins with a claim to power, and if the claim is accepted—if the performance is believed—it takes hold. Much as he played a real-estate tycoon in the most crude and reductive way, Trump is now performing his idea of power as he imagines it. In his intuition, power is autocratic; it affirms the superiority of one nation and one race; it asserts total domination; and it mercilessly suppresses all opposition.

China noticed too, and gloated. The editor of China’s Global Times tweeted:

The US repression of domestic unrest has further eroded the moral basis to claim itself “beacon of democracy”. The era that the US political elites could exploit Tiananmen incident at will is over.

And Thai Enquirer couldn’t resist an ironic jab at the oh-so-superior United States: “Unrest continues for a seventh day in former British colony“.

The United States has had a long history of suppressing and persecuting its various ethnic minorities since the country gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1776.

The treatment of its indigenous ‘Native Americans,’ its imported Asian and Black communities, and its Hispanic community has long been a source of friction.

American black minority groups were under a program similar to South Africa’s Apartheid policy until as recently as 1964. Today, the ethnic black community is still detained and killed with impunity by the state security forces and black Americans make up the majority of those incarcerated under the country’s archaic judicial system.

Religion also plays a major role in governance with religious beliefs separating key state organs including the country’s highest court where many social laws are passed based on the justices’ personally held religious convictions.

In short, US ambassadors around the world have just seen their moral authority collapse.

In addition to Trump’s proposed misuse of the Army, his unilateral dismantling of America’s soft power is probably a major factor causing previously silent military figures to speak out: Trump’s ex-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, to name two out of many.

Peaceful protest wins out. But if Trump imagined that unleashing police power on the protesters at Lafayette Park would intimidate them, he was wrong. On Tuesday they were back in larger numbers, and have not stopped protesting near the White House since. Friday, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed the section of 16th Street that ends at Lafayette Park “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and painted an enormous “Black Lives Matter” on the pavement. (In the vanishing point of the photo below, you can barely make out the White House.)

Bowser’s move was an institutional version of the well-known protest chant: “Whose streets? Our streets.”

Wednesday, President Obama filled the healing role that Trump has left vacant, urging young African Americans to “feel hopeful even as you may feel angry”. Don’t choose between protest in the streets and action within the political system, he advised. Do both.

This is not an either-or. This is a both-and. To bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented. … Every step of progress in this country, every expansion of freedom, every expression of our deepest ideals, has been won through efforts that made the status quo uncomfortable. And we should all be thankful for folks who are willing in a peaceful, disciplined way to be out there making a difference.

A memorial service for Floyd was held in Minneapolis on Thursday, and another in Raeford, North Carolina (where he was born) on Saturday. Both were surrounded by emotional, but nonviolent, crowds.

That turned into the pattern across the nation. As the week went on, violence faded and peaceful protest gained momentum. The largest protests occurred this weekend unblemished by violence from either looters or law enforcement.

Strikingly, protests occurred all over the country, in small towns as well as big cities, and included many whites as well as people of color. (Mitt Romney marched Sunday in Washington.) In this photo, taken Wednesday a few blocks from where I live in Bedford, Massachusetts, two passing police stop in the Great Road to take a knee in front of the protesters on the town common. The officers were later commended by the police chief, and every protester I’ve talked to was touched by the gesture. (Our local protests continued all week; I attended on Friday.)

There are two ways to interpret the late-week peace. In one narrative, the overwhelming display of force on Sunday and Monday sent the message that protester violence would not be tolerated. As rioters went away, law enforcement withdrew. But in another narrative, it was law enforcement’s lower profile that de-escalated the cycle of violence.

One inarguable point, though, is that the absence of burning buildings and marauding police left the media little to cover other than the substance of the protests. By this weekend, there was increasing discussion of proposals to get America’s police back under control. (See the next article.)

Thoughtful people can disagree about whether the early-week violence was necessary to focus the nation’s attention. But it was clearly necessary for that violence to end so that the message could be absorbed.

In the end, on balance, it was a good week for democracy and for the nation. But we’ll need a lot more good weeks to see change take root.

The Monday Morning Teaser

By the end, it turned into a good week. The violence from looters and police faded, but the protests grew and spread across the country. Without the distraction of burning buildings and troops in the streets, more and more attention went to the substance of the protests: How do we get the police under control?

I’m going to cover this in two separate articles. The first follows the sequence of events, from Trump’s authoritarian stunt at St. John’s Church on Monday to the massive peaceful protests over the weekend. That should be out a little after 8 EDT. The second will look at the proposals for changing how police operate in America, from simple rule changes to “abolishing” policing as we know it. That will be out before 11.

The weekly summary may be a little late this week. It has a pandemic to cover. (Remember that? It’s bound to come roaring back after the massive crowd scenes.) Also the push and pull as the Republican Party decides which way to move. And plans for the return of the NBA. That should be out by 1.