Category Archives: Weekly summaries

Each week, a short post that links to the other posts of the week.

The Rich Inheritance

The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

– Frederick Douglass “What, to the slave, is the 4th of July?

This week’s featured post is “In the Land of ‘No We Can’t’“.

This week everybody was talking about the virus

The number of new Covid-19 infections surged to new heights this week, going over 57,000 on Friday. Deaths continued on a flat-to-downward path, running between 500-600 a day, but deaths lag infections, so it’s hard to see how that continues.

Tens of thousands of Americans are dead because of Trump’s denial and incompetence. I laid this out in some detail last week, but James Fallows has done it even better in The Atlantic. In addition to being a top-notch journalist and writer, Fallows is an amateur pilot. (The book Our Towns describes his and his wife Deborah’s tour of the kinds of American cities that are hard to get to by commercial flights.)

As an amateur pilot, I can’t help associating the words catastrophic failure with an accident report. The fact is, confronting a pandemic has surprising parallels with the careful coordination and organization that have saved large numbers of lives in air travel.

So he reviews the government’s handling of Covid-19 the way that the National Transportation Safety Board would review an airliner crash: starting way back at the beginning, with how the system was designed, and then looking at how those plans were implemented and what went wrong.

Making a long article short: The Bush administration left a sound pandemic plan after the H5N1 flu of 2005, and the Obama administration updated it after the Ebola outbreak. The early-detection system they put in place worked, but nobody in the Trump administration could be bothered to notice.

By at least late December, signs were beginning to show something seriously amiss—despite foot-dragging, lies, and apparent cover-up on the Chinese side. A different kind of Chinese government might have done a different job, calling for help from the rest of the world and increasing the chances that the coronavirus remained a regional rather than global threat. But other U.S. leaders had dealt with foreign cover-ups, including by China in the early stages of the SARS outbreak in 2002. Washington knew enough, soon enough, in this case to act while there still was time.

… During the Obama administration, the U.S. had negotiated to have its observers stationed in many cities across China, through a program called Predict. But the Trump administration did not fill those positions, including in Wuhan. This meant that no one was on site to learn about, for instance, the unexplained closure on January 1 of the city’s main downtown Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a so-called wet market where wild animals, live or already killed, were on sale along with fish and domesticated animals.

When the early warnings started, CDC tried to get observers in.

“CDC asked for access, and was denied it [by the Chinese government],” Ron Klain, who coordinated efforts against the Ebola pandemic during the Obama administration, told me. “In normal circumstances, that request would have gone up the chain, and you would have had senior-level people in the NSC pressing at senior levels. My guess is that it wasn’t pressed in this case because the senior people were Mnuchin and Kudlow, and they had other priorities. … The question isn’t what leverage we had. The point is that we gave up leverage with China to get the trade deal done. That meant that we didn’t put leverage on China’s government. We took their explanations at face value.”

Obama had left a plan, but Trump ignored it.

The Obama playbook, like the Bush report, is chillingly prescient. Its emphasis is on the step-by-step “how to” of the government’s response.

The worldwide pandemic response system was set up to rely on American logistics. But Trump never mobilized it.

When the new coronavirus threat suddenly materialized, American engagement was the signal all other participants were waiting for. But this time it did not come. It was as if air traffic controllers walked away from their stations and said, “The rest of you just work it out for yourselves.”

… The system was primed to act, but the person at the top of the system had to say “Go.” And that person was Donald Trump.

“Here is the way I would put it,” a person who has been involved with the President’s Daily Brief process told me, referring to Trump. “The person behind the desk is the same person you see on TV”—emotional, opinionated, fixed on his own few hobbyhorses and distorted views of reality, unwilling or unable to absorb new information. “In a normal administration, the president would have seen the warnings unfolding from January onward. But this president hadn’t absorbed any of it.” … In a resigned way, the people I spoke with summed up the situation this way: You have a head of government who doesn’t know anything, and doesn’t read anything, and is at the mercy of what he sees on TV.

… The United States still possesses the strongest economy in the world, its military is by far the most powerful, its culture is diverse, and, confronted with the vicissitudes of history, the country has proved resilient. But a veteran of the intelligence world emphasized that the coronavirus era has revealed a sobering reality. “Our system has a single point of failure: an irrational president.” At least in an airplane cockpit, the first officer can grab the controls from a captain who is steering the aircraft toward doom.

So Fallows imagines the conclusion of the NTSB report like this:

There was a flight plan. There was accurate information about what lay ahead. The controllers were ready. The checklists were complete. The aircraft was sound. But the person at the controls was tweeting. Even if the person at the controls had been able to give effective orders, he had laid off people who would carry them out. This was a preventable catastrophe.

Because they were hit hard early in the pandemic, a few EU countries — Belgium, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and France — still have more Covid deaths per capita than the US. (We’re gaining on them, though, and will probably pass France in another month or so.) But most of them — Germany and the other countries on the Baltic Sea stand out — have been doing far better from the beginning. The most valid comparison is the EU as a whole, so I decided to use the Worldometer numbers to do an EU spreadsheet of my own on Saturday morning. Totaling up across all 27 EU countries, they had almost exactly the same number of deaths we do: 133,651 to our 132,112. We’ll probably pass them sometime today, with only about 3/4 of their population.

Not all EU countries report their number of active cases — infected people who have neither died nor recovered — but my guess from the available numbers is that the US has 7 or 8 times as many.

The EU added insult to injury on Wednesday: It started admitting non-essential travelers from many countries, but not Americans. Because we have let the virus get so out of control, Europeans consider Americans to be disease vectors, lumping us in with other virus-ridden countries like Russia and Brazil.

One reason I don’t think Trump will stage a comeback in the polls is that every day it gets harder and harder to deny how totally he has botched the federal response to the pandemic. The well-governed countries are getting through this, while the poorly-governed ones are still floundering. Under Trump, the United States is poorly governed.

Imagine that things go as well as is reasonably possible for Trump between now and the election: The death rate doesn’t shoot up to match the case rate, so we get to November with “only” 200,000 or so dead. Vaccine research goes well, so that we have a viable formula ready, though it won’t go into mass production and wide distribution until spring. We avoided a second lockdown, so the unemployment rate is only 10% or so.

Even in that rosy scenario, it will be undeniable that the rest of the world’s governments handled this much better. So even if by November you think the end of this crisis is in sight, is this really the guy you want in charge for the NEXT crisis?

Controls on the southern border are tightening up — on the Mexican side.

As cases have increased in Southern California, Arizona and Texas, Mexican border states have increasingly come to see the outbreak in the United States as their biggest threat in controlling the epidemic.

Citing no evidence, President Trump has said that the border wall would keep infections from entering the United States from Mexico. But given the soaring U.S. caseload, it is Mexico that has more reason to fear the virus coming across the border.

Conservatives would like to blame the George Floyd protests for the surge in infections, but the data seems not to support that. Reason: Even as the protesters may have been infecting each other, they were also discouraging other people from going out. The net result looks like a wash.

Whether and how to open schools in the fall is a huge topic this summer. Many parents won’t return to work if they have nowhere to send their school-age children. (An NYT opinion piece argues that opening schools should have been the primary goal of every state’s reopening plan. Leaving bars and restaurants closed longer would have been a small price to pay, if the payoff was beating the virus back to a level that allowed schools to open.)

College students and their families may not be willing to take on massive debts for the sake of online classes, and colleges without big endowments may go under for good if they close for a semester. So there’s lots of motivation to open schools at all levels, even without a good plan for doing it safely.

One fly in the ointment: college professors. Many of them are in the endangered over-50 age group, so sending them into classrooms with undergraduates or expecting them to meet individual students in their small offices is a bad idea. They’re smart enough to know that, and they have more power within the system than your average kindergarten teacher.

Expecting college students to follow strict protocols in their dorms, or to stay out of crowded local bars, is foolish. Young adults feel invulnerable anyway, and in this case many of them are.

This week, Iowa health authorities reported case spikes among young adults in its two largest college towns, Ames and Iowa City, after the governor allowed bars to reopen. And on campuses across the country, attempts to bring back football teams for preseason practice have resulted in outbreaks.

More than 130 coronavirus cases have been linked to athletic departments at 28 Division I universities. At Clemson, at least 23 football players and two coaches have been infected. At Arkansas State University, seven athletes across three teams tested positive. And at the University of Houston, the athletic department stopped off-season workouts after an outbreak was discovered.

I know I’m repeating a link from last week, but it really fits here: “A Message from Your University’s Vice President for Magical Thinking“.

And Randy Rainbow has another great video.

and the bounties

The official response to reports that the Russians paid bounties to Taliban fighters for killing Americans is somewhere between “I don’t believe it” and “Nobody told me.” In any case, Trump isn’t going to do anything about it.

Neither explanation holds water. “Nobody told me” is particularly weak, given that Trump oversees the people who didn’t tell him. His excuse for being incompetent as a commander-in-chief is that he’s incompetent as a manager.

“I don’t believe it” is another example of taking Putin’s word for it. We saw this in Helsinki, and we’re seeing it again.

and jobs

The June jobs report came out, and the top line number was good: 4.8 million new jobs, and the unemployment rate dropping to 11.1%. However,  I agree with Slate:

The most important thing to keep in mind about Thursday’s monster jobs report is that it’s a backward-looking window into the moment right before much of the country’s reopening plans went completely to hell.

Probably this is the last piece of good news about the job market we’ll see for some while.

and Trump’s bizarre 4th of July

Because somebody has to keep an eye on them, I get the Trump campaign emails. Saturday this showed up:

We’ll get right to the point – Democrats HATE America.

The Democrats Tweet: Trump has disrespected Native communities time and again. He's attempted to limit their voting rights and blocked critical pandemic relief. Now he's holding a rally glorifying white supremacy at Mount Rushmore – a region once sacred to tribal communities.

They’re attacking President Trump for wanting to celebrate Independence Day at Mount Rushmore – an ICONIC monument that features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – as a symbol of white supremacy.

Can you believe it? They truly hate EVERYTHING our great Nation stands for.

I think they misjudged this one, and it’s typical of the way they’re misjudging the electorate in general. The Democrats’ tweet — and the Native American protesters the tweet supports — makes a good point.

What’s more, I think a large majority of Americans would agree that Mount Rushmore isn’t an appropriate spot for a partisan event, and that it’s an abuse of power for the President to order the Navy’s Blue Angels to be the warm-up act for his campaign speech. The mountain and the Navy belong to the nation, not to the President. An iconic national monument is not the place for aggressively divisive political rhetoric like this:

In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us. (Applause.)

Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.

To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.

It’s Trump’s right to smear his enemies this way, if that’s what he wants to do, but at least when Hillary gave her “deplorables” speech, her campaign paid for it. And Obama didn’t order the Blue Angels to perform overhead.

It’s weird that Trump complains about being “censored” — giving no examples, because there are none — when he has very recently tried to prevent John Bolton from publishing his book, and is still trying to stop Mary Trump’s book.

Catherine Rampell itemizes all the ways Trump has tried to censor, bully, and otherwise control people who criticize him.

and the Supreme Court

Last week the decision throwing out the Louisiana abortion law had just come out, and I had no time to look at it. I read it this weekend.

It’s kind of a strange read all around: the plurality opinion of the four liberal justices, the concurrence by Chief Justice Roberts, and the various dissents by the other four conservatives. Everybody is dancing around the fact that everybody knows, but the Court doesn’t want to state openly: Louisiana passed this law in bad faith. The stated reason (protecting women’s health) was totally distinct from the real reason (harassing abortion clinics into closing).

So the question was whether the Court would let that go. The four liberal justices come up with reasons not to, without actually accusing the Louisiana legislature of bad faith. The four conservative justices come up with arguments that give the legislature cover — basically, that it’s too soon to make this decision; the Court should wait until the clinics actually close, and then look at things. And John Roberts says that the Louisiana law is identical to a Texas law the Court threw out four years ago (but then it waited for clinics to close), so the law needs to be applied the same way.

I can’t remember who was making this point, but I think it’s a good one: Roberts’ decision here resembles his decision against the citizenship question on the census: He’s willing to bend the law in a conservative direction, but he hates to look blatantly political and corrupt. So he needs conservatives to show him the respect of sending him better cases.

The Court, in my opinion, is ready to reverse Roe v Wade, or at least to chip it away to nothing. But they need a better excuse than this.

I speculated last week that Roberts had scheduled the more liberal decisions to come out first, to give cover to something outrageous later on. The first political decision came this week: the House won’t get access to documents from the Mueller grand jury.

We’re still waiting for a ruling on Trump’s tax returns.

and Biden’s VP choices

People are making a case for Kamala Harris, Stacy Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, Val Demings, Susan Rice, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Michelle Lujan Grisham.

I’m not going to either make a prediction or pick a favorite from that list. Mainly, I’m struck by what a strong list it is.

Biden has said he’ll pick a woman, and there are many reasons for him to lean towards a woman of color. (The only white woman on the list, Elizabeth Warren, is there because she could raise enthusiasm among progressive Democrats who didn’t support Biden in the primaries.) Ordinarily, people worry that such prior restrictions limit the talent pool. But I don’t think that’s a valid complaint here.

Biden has described himself as “a transition candidate“, raising the possibility that he might only want a single term. In that scenario, his VP would be well positioned for a 2024 presidential run.

BTW, lately I’ve been responding to Facebook posts about Biden and the Democrats leading us into “socialism” by quoting Voodoo Pork:

You know how your parents used to call every console a “Nintendo”? That’s how conservatives use the word “socialist” to describe everything to the left of hunting the homeless for sport.

and you also might be interested in …

Caroline Randall Williams writes a powerful statement on the monuments of the Old South: “My Body is a Confederate Monument“.

It is an extraordinary truth of my life that I am biologically more than half white, and yet I have no white people in my genealogy in living memory. No. Voluntary. Whiteness. I am more than half white, and none of it was consensual. White Southern men — my ancestors — took what they wanted from women they did not love, over whom they had extraordinary power, and then failed to claim their children.

Among her white Confederate ancestors are Edmund Pettis, the general and KKK grand dragon whose name adorns the bridge where John Lewis and other civil rights demonstrators were beaten by police on Bloody Sunday in 1965.

You cannot dismiss me as someone who doesn’t understand. You cannot say it wasn’t my family members who fought and died. …

Among the apologists for the Southern cause and for its monuments, there are those who dismiss the hardships of the past. They imagine a world of benevolent masters, and speak with misty eyes of gentility and honor and the land. They deny plantation rape, or explain it away, or question the degree of frequency with which it occurred.

To those people it is my privilege to say, I am proof.

SharpieGate is far from the most serious scandal of the Trump administration, but the very triviality of it speaks volumes.

When Hurricane Dorian was approaching Florida last September, Trump erroneously tweeted that the storm would hit Alabama “harder than anticipated”. In fact, it was not headed to Alabama at all, according to National Weather Service projections, which turned out to be right. The NWS, worried that Alabamans might panic unnecessarily, corrected Trump’s tweet within minutes:

Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.

That’s not a scandal; it’s just a mistake. (And who hasn’t gotten confused by a map or named the wrong state sometime?) But Trump lacks the strength of character to admit even trivial mistakes, and he could not let this subject drop. Ultimately he  “proved” he was right by showing reporters an NWS map that had been crudely doctored with a Sharpie.

That’s petty to an almost clinical degree, but still not a scandal. The true low point of SharpieGate, though, came when NOAA issued a false statement undercutting its own people and supporting the president.

The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.

How did that happen? The White House put pressure on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who reportedly threatened to fire people at NOAA if they didn’t support the president’s false claim. (Ross has denied this.)

So why bring it up now? Well, the Commerce Department inspector general looked into this incident and has written a report. That report has been awaiting release since June 26, when the Commerce Department had 48 hours to mark it up.  But Wednesday, a memo to Secretary Ross from the IG complained that something else is happening:

The final publication of our evaluation has been delayed, thwarted, and effectively estopped by the Department’s refusal to identify specific areas of privilege. Additionally, your staff has refused to engage in any meaningful discussion to identify proposed privilege redactions, indicating that such discussions would not be fruitful. To allow the Department’s all-encompassing and opaque assertion of privilege to stand is to effectively grant the Department a pocket veto over the completion and issuance of final OIG work, which is clearly contrary to the IG Act, OIG independence, and good government.

All this, because Trump couldn’t simply thank the alert people at the NWS for catching his mistake before any harm came of it, as any responsible adult would do.

China has imposed more draconian laws against protest in Hong Kong, and the protesters haven’t figured out how to adjust yet.

A company hand-picked by Trump to build a $1.3 billion chunk of his border wall also built a 3-mile segment on private land as a demonstration project. That segment was built too close to the Rio Grande and only 2.5 feet deep. ProPublica and the Texas Tribune report:

But his showcase piece is showing signs of runoff erosion and, if it’s not fixed, could be in danger of falling into the Rio Grande, according to engineers and hydrologists who reviewed photos of the wall for ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. It never should have been built so close to the river, they say.

Just months after going up, they said, photos reveal a series of gashes and gullies at various points along the structure where rainwater runoff has scoured the sandy loam beneath the foundation.

“When the river rises, it will likely attack those areas where the foundation is exposed, further weakening support of the fence and potentially causing portions … to fall into the Rio Grande,” said Alex Mayer, a civil engineer professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has done research in the Rio Grande basin.

It’s like the old proverb: A thing that is not worth doing at all is not worth doing well.

I don’t know if this is true, but I hope it is.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is requiring everyone in Texas to wear a face covering. It’s illegal to carry a gun while wearing a face covering. Texas just unintentionally banned concealed and open carry.

and let’s close with a blast from the past

Recently lots of people have been making fun of Karen, and in particular her sense of entitlement and white privilege. But not many people remember that when she was a teen-ager she used to have her own TV show, and the Beach Boys sang her intro. Back then, she was an alarming, quite disarming, and a really somewhat charming modern girl. Maybe it was obvious then how she would grow up, but I didn’t see it coming.

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 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 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“. 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.

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.

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.

Owning the Problem

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

President John F. Kennedy (3-13-1962)

If you’re more upset by an athlete kneeling on a sports field than a police officer kneeling on a black man’s neck until he dies, then you are the problem.

Brian Klaas

This week’s featured post is “The Three Stories of George Floyd“.

This week everybody was talking about George Floyd

The featured post is already too long, but a lot of stuff didn’t get included.

A low point in a week of low points was Trump’s tweets about the demonstrations around the White House and the Secret Service response. First, he just flat-out lied about D. C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) “who is always looking for money & help, wouldn’t let the D.C. Police get involved.” D. C. police did in fact protect the White House.

[The Secret Service] let the “protesters” scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard – didn’t know what hit them. The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action. “We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and good practice.”

You can just hear the glee in his imagining the protesters being “really badly hurt”. I also sincerely doubt that the young Secret Service agents were chomping at the bit to go hurt protesters, the way Trump makes it sound.

Some of the pleas that black local officials made for peace and an end to the destruction were really moving. Here’s Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Trump’s tweet that

The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.

is based on nothing. Designating a terrorist organization is a legal act based on legislation. There is no legislation that covers domestic groups. His claim that Antifa is promoting the riots is also pretty much vacuous. It’s possible, but Trump has presented no evidence, and he has a history of making Antifa into a general-purpose boogie man.

Finally, it’s not even clear that Antifa is an organization. There are small local groups that use the label, and they share certain ideas and texts and tactics. (The main idea is that fascists are violent, and they need to be met with violence. The subtext is that the police cannot be trusted to protect progressives from fascists.) But it’s not like there’s a Pope of Antifa somewhere sending out orders. Talking about Antifa as an organization is like talking about jazz or yoga as an organization.

Remember: During World War II, Americans were all anti-fascists.

An amazing column in the Washington Post yesterday. A daughter from the family that owns Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis reports overhearing her father’s reaction to their restaurant burning down: “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served. Put those officers in jail.”

The protests and the violence and the fires will stop once we’re rid of this system that oppresses, and maims, and kills people like George Floyd. So let it burn.

Somebody drove a truck through a bunch of protesters on a bridge in Minneapolis yesterday. The details are still vague.

and 100,000 Covid-19 deaths

Well, not everybody was talking about this death milestone. The President of the United States had nothing to say on the topic.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, said something very moving and appropriate. He posted a 2:21-minute video on Twitter in which he marked the 100,000th death and sympathized with those who have lost loved ones.

I can promise you from experience, the day will come when the memory of your loved one will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.

The video is only briefly political, and does not mention the President’s name.

It’s made all the worse by knowing that this is a fateful milestone we should have never reached, that it could have been avoided. According to a study done by Columbia University, if the administration had acted just one week earlier to implement social distancing and do what it had to do, just one week sooner, as many as 36,000 of these deaths might have been averted.

Biden also does not center his message on himself. That “from experience” is the only allusion to his own losses, particularly his first wife and baby daughter dying in a traffic accident in 1972.

OK, so where are we: Currently at 106K deaths, up from 99K last week. The 7K increase is down from the 8K increase last week.

Desperate for a scapegoat, Trump ended US membership in the World Health Organization Friday.

The Supreme Court denied a California church’s request to throw out the state’s emergency rule that houses of worship only open at 25% of the ordinary building capacity. It was a 5-4 ruling with Justice Roberts siding with the Court’s four liberals. Justice Kavanaugh wrote a dissent for himself and Justices Gorsuch and Thomas.

The established law in such cases was explained well by Vox’ Ian Millhiser:

The general rule when a state is accused of abridging “religious liberty” is that churches and other religious institutions may be subjected to the same laws as everyone else, but they cannot be singled out for inferior treatment. Churches must comply with the fire code, follow most labor laws, obey the criminal law, and so forth. As the Supreme Court explained in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), people of faith must still obey “neutral” state laws of “general applicability.”

Roberts and Kavanaugh disagree about which secular institutions are comparable to a church. Roberts writes:

Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.

Kavanaugh wants to clump churches with different kinds of institutions.

The basic constitutional problem is that comparable secular businesses are not subject to a 25% occupancy cap, including factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries.

You now know was much as I do, and you can make up your own mind, but I think Kavanaugh is just being ridiculous. A church resembles a movie theater much more than a pet grooming shop.

and Michael Flynn

Summaries and partial transcripts of the Flynn/Kislyak conversations have been released. These are the conversations that Flynn lied about to the FBI. And the transcripts make that lie crystal clear: He told the FBI he didn’t discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador, when he really did.

Marcy Wheeler (who writes the blog EmptyWheel) assesses:

They’re utterly damning. … [F]rom the very start of this Administration, Flynn willingly set up the relationship with Russia such that Russia and Trump’s Administration were allied against Democrats — and anyone else who believed it was wrong for Russia to tamper in our election.

and Twitter

Tuesday, Twitter attached a fact-check warning to a Trump tweet that was full of misinformation about vote-by-mail. This was long overdue. In fact, if Twitter applied the same standards to Trump that it applies to everyone else, his account would have been closed long ago.

Trump’s tweet was still there. He had not been censored in any way. But he claimed — in a tweet — that he had been.

Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election. If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen!

And he spread more threatening disinformation.

Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.

As he so often does — see the bit about Antifa above — he’s making threats based on powers he doesn’t have.

But he attempted to follow through with an executive order that is itself full of misinformation. It talks about online platforms that “censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike”. (Again, his tweet is still there. He was fact-checked, not silenced.) And it calls on the FCC to “clarify” the laws that don’t hold online platforms responsible for what users post there.

Lawfare comments:

The key language of Section 230—“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”—leaves no ambiguity to enable FCC rulemaking or FCC action at all. Nor does language about good-faith removals limit this provision in any way. Rather, the statute simply lays out a standard for courts to review intermediary liability claims. Plus, even if the FCC could rewrite Section 230, that would not stop the Trump tweet fact-check—Twitter still enjoys First Amendment protection for what it says on its own platform. Regarding the FTC, the order wrongly interprets platforms’ merely aspirational guidelines on openness as mandatory promises; no one seriously believes that Twitter is totally neutral toward all content, no matter how horrible.

But the likelihood that the order won’t withstand judicial scrutiny misses the point. The threat of the order itself, even as wrong as it is, does exactly the damage Trump wants to do: It pressures companies into giving his content preferential treatment.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News that he disagreed with what Twitter was doing.

I believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.

Two Australian satire sites then posted headlines with false info about Zuckerberg. The Shovel posted “Mark Zuckerberg — dead at 36 — Says Social Media Sites Should Not Fact-Check Posts”. And The Chaser posted “Social media sites shouldn’t fact-check posts” says child molester Mark Zuckerberg, then followed with “Child molesters sue The Chaser after being compared to Mark Zuckerberg“.

Twitter did nothing about another Trump disinformation campaign.

In the annals of Trump’s many scurrilous slanders, this one stands out: He keeps pushing a conspiracy theory that accuses MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough of murder. A Scarborough congressional staffer, Lori Kaye Klausutis, died in the office 2001. She “died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk”. Scarborough “was 800 miles away at the time and the police ruled her death an accident.”

The woman’s husband, Timothy Klausutis, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. He quoted three Trump tweets, and then made a request:

Please delete these tweets.

I’m a research engineer and not a lawyer, but I’ve reviewed all of Twitter’s rules and terms of service. The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) — is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.

… I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain. … My wife deserves better.

But Twitter has not removed the tweets or banished Trump. When reporters asked Trump about the tweets Tuesday in the Rose Garden, he substituted his own imaginings about the family for the husband’s expressed wishes:

I’m sure that, ultimately, they want to get to the bottom of it and it’s a very serious situation. As you know, there’s no statute of limitations. So, [reopening the investigation] would be a very good, very good thing to do.

As usual, Trump has no new evidence that challenges the conclusions of the original investigation. He’s just stirring up trouble for Scarborough, who he views as an enemy. Tim Klausutis and the rest of the dead woman’s family are just collateral damage.

A handful of Republicans in Congress have denounced this unscrupulous attack on one of their own, but the great majority have remained silent. There seems to be literally nothing Trump could do that would result in widespread criticism from his party, much less any substantive discipline.

The WaPo’s Brian Klaas calls the intransigence of Trump cultists “the Fifth Avenue problem” and comments:

American democracy is badly broken if few people change their minds about a president who falsely accuses someone of murder or boasts about his TV ratings while 100,000 Americans lose their lives and nearly 40 million lose their jobs. And that says as much about the dysfunctional state of our country as it does about Trump.

and you also might be interested in …

SpaceX successfully launched two astronauts into space and then docked their vehicle with the International Space Station.

The National Hockey League has a plan for going straight to playoffs and crowning a champion in early autumn: 24 teams would play in two hub cities. The cities, the dates, and the final decision about whether this will happen at all are still pending.

Some for-profit colleges run a scam where students are conned into maxxing out their student loans, but are left without the marketable credentials or skills the college’s pitch promised. Fraudulent colleges find veterans particularly attractive because of their GI benefits.

The Obama administration made rules that forgave these student loans, but the Trump administration rolled those rules back. Congress passed a bill re-establishing the Obama rules, but Trump just vetoed it writing:

[The bill] sought to reimpose an Obama-era regulation that defined education fraud so broadly that it threatened to paralyze the nation’s system of higher education.

Unsurprising, I guess, that the founder of Trump University would have so much sympathy with education fraudsters.

Mitch Daniels was the Republican governor of Indiana before Mike Pence, and is now president of Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. Last Monday, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about why Purdue will reopen its campus in the fall.

I have too much to say about this, which I hope to get to next week. The gist of his argument is that most Purdue students are young and young people mostly don’t die from the virus, so “failing to reopen Purdue University this fall would be an unacceptable breach of duty”.

In other words, he’s using the magic of averages to make the victims of his policy — older students, janitors, secretaries, professors — go away. I can imagine a sound and anguished weighing of risks and benefits that concluded with opening Purdue. But this isn’t it, and the president of an institution of higher learning should be ashamed to give his students such a shoddy example.

The Lincoln Project is a group of never-Trump Republicans who have been making anti-Trump TV ads. This week they branched out and started going after Mitch McConnell as well.

and let’s close with something squirrely

Mark Rober apparently is something of a YouTube sensation, with 11.8 million subscribers, but I hadn’t heard of him before this video. He started out trying to protect his bird feeder from squirrels, but as they foiled one device after another, he came to have first a grudging admiration for their persistence and athleticism, and then a real fascination with them. At 20 minutes, his “Building the Perfect Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder” video is longer than my usual closing, but well worth it.

And while we’re talking squirrels, Christopher Moore’s new novel Shakespeare for Squirrels is an amusing way to pass the time while sheltering at home. This is the third Moore novel to follow King Lear’s former fool, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze. Pocket was introduced in Foole, which retold King Lear in a way that made Pocket the hero. He then moved on to The Serpent of Venice, and now shows up in the timeless Athens of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Death and Meaning

Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.

– Archibald MacLeish, “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak

There are no featured posts this week.

This week everybody was talking about Memorial Day

It takes on a somewhat different meaning this year, as the official total of coronavirus deaths approaches 100,000 Americans. (The actual total is almost certainly much higher.) The New York Times created a haunting graphic in an attempt to capture the scope of the loss.

Traditionally, Memorial Day honors those who have died serving our country in the military. (And the NYT’s Elliot Ackerman reminds us of the number of veterans dying from the coronavirus.) But the current crisis reminds us that the military is not the only place where people risk their lives to defend the rest of us. Right now, healthcare workers are on the front lines, but I can’t find any up-to-date estimate of the number who have died. Business Insider profiled six of them a few weeks ago.

To a lesser extent, many hundreds of thousands of people are taking on risk for the rest of us. As a 60-something whose 60-something wife has multiple risk factors, I try to remain aware of all the people I send into the world in my place: the InstaCart shopper who gets my groceries; the Amazon workers who make packages appear on my porch; the meat packers, field workers, truck drivers, and others up and down the supply chain. Our system makes most of these people invisible to us, but we should never forget them. If they get sick, it is not just their problem; we bear responsibility also.

Like soldiers, some of those risk-bearing people have intentionally sought out the mission of defending us, while others faced a situation with no other acceptable options. The pandemic has highlighted a division in our society that we usually ignore: Some of us can choose to stay safe, while others don’t have those choices.

Memorial Day is also the traditional beginning of summer. Beaches are open in most states that have them. And it should be relatively safe to use them, as long as you can keep your distance from other people. Two problems to watch out for: choke points leaving the parking lot and public restrooms.

Restrooms are going to be a problem in a lot of back-to-normal plans.

and the virus

Nationwide, the numbers continue to improve. As I write this, the US death total is 99,396, up from around 91K last week. That increase of 8K or so is lower than the increases of 10K and 13K the previous two weeks. The deaths-per-day graph the Washington Post updates shows US deaths peaking in mid-April at over 2,000 per day, then trending downward to about 1,200 a day now.

But those national numbers hide an evolving story of how the epidemic is shifting. The big drops are happening in the previous hotspots around New York City, while totals are rising in many other parts of the country. Like the latest fashions or slang, coronavirus is showing up late in rural America, but it’s getting there. TPM describes the case numbers for the non-New-York states as a plateau.

Imperial College of London reports on the state-by-state outlook for the virus. The key variable the report considers is the “reproduction number”. In other words: On average, how many new people does each infected person infect? Since all cases eventually resolve (via recovery or death), a reproduction number of less than 1 indicates that the number of infections will decline, but greater than one predicts growth.

Our results suggest that while the US has substantially reduced its reproduction numbers in all states, there is little evidence that the epidemic is under control in the majority of states. Without changes in behaviour that result in reduced transmission, or interventions such as increased testing that limit transmission, new infections of COVID-19 are likely to persist, and, in the majority of states, grow

The report shows an epidemic in transition. Most of the states with the highest number of cases and deaths (New York, for example) have gotten the reproduction number below 1. Meanwhile, states not hit as hard so far (like Texas) have the highest reproduction numbers.

New York, New Jersey, and the other hard-hit states got their reproduction number down via “changes in behaviour”: hand-washing, wearing masks, and staying indoors. But the states where the virus is growing are also relaxing their behavioral restrictions. The next few weeks will answer a key question: Will the virus “run its course” in Texas the same way it did in New York? Or will it keep spreading until Texas implements the same kind of measures New York did?

One result of Trump’s divisive manipulations is that mask-wearing has become a political issue rather than a non-partisan matter of public health. Refusal to wear a mask has become an act of “vice signaling” in right-wing circles.

these people are proud to say that their passing discomfort is more important than the lives of others, or of others’ loved ones. They are vice-signaling to get accolades from their conservative peers, who think that it is the height of morality not to care about other people at all.

North Dakota’s Republican Governor Doug Burgum could barely get his words out as he pleaded with Dakotans to

just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they’re creating a divide, whether it’s ideological or political or something around mask versus no-mask. … I would ask people to try to dial up their empathy and understanding. If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they’ve got a five-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their lives.

… I would love to see our state, as part of being North Dakota smart, also be North Dakota kind.

Apparently, some Republicans still think of “North Dakota nice” as a a virtue, and believe that virtue isn’t just for losers. In my opinion, they need to realize that their style of Republicanism has lost out, and they’re now in the wrong party.

and its effect on the economy

Georgia was the first state to start reopening its non-essential businesses, beginning on April 24. Observers on one side predicted a spike in infections and deaths, while those on the other pictured a quick economic recovery. So far, reality is not working out in either of those ways. Imperial College’s estimates of Georgia virus-reproduction rate look like this:

Both the 50% and the 95% confidence intervals stretch across the R=1 line, so the virus might be either spreading or retreating. There might be a slight upward trend since April 24, but it’s not clear.

Similarly, the Georgia economy is not showing a rapid recovery. To start with, Georgians are still spending a lot of time at home. The amount of time outside the home has increased somewhat since April 24, but it’s nowhere near its pre-pandemic levels.

Steve Rattner writes:

Consumer spending in Georgia has tracked the national average even more closely. It fell sharply from mid-March until it hit bottom about a month later, at more than 30% below early January levels. Coincidentally or not, the nadir of spending coincided almost exactly with the first of the $1,200 stimulus checks going out. From there, spending has been slowly recovering but is still down about 15% in both Georgia and the country as a whole. Other, even more recent data (like OpenTable restaurant reservations) show a similar picture. … Notwithstanding its short shutdown and early reopening, the falloff in job listings in Georgia has been identical to the national decline, down more than 36%. Other statistics, like new claims for unemployment insurance, paint an even grimmer picture of the employment situation in Georgia.

The gist is that while Georgia has relaxed its restrictions on business, it still hasn’t convinced consumers that it’s safe to come out. That’s keeping both infection rates and job growth in check.

The Payroll Protection Plan passed by Congress at the beginning of the lockdown may not keep about half the nation’s small businesses from closing. The PPP was

tailored to what the crisis looked liked when shutdowns first took place in the olden times of March 2020, when it seemed that business closures would be a short-term blip and everyone might be able to get back to normal by summer. … For loans made under the program to be fully forgiven, an employer must maintain pre-crisis employment levels. Now it’s clear many businesses will permanently shift to smaller staffing levels to remain viable, such as restaurants operating at partial capacity.

The biggest reopening question is still one of the most uncertain: Will schools open in the fall? And if so, how will they adjust to the infection risk?

Colleges and universities are a bit ahead of K-12 schools in announcing decisions, but many of them are still on the fence as well.  Here’s a rundown of what we know so far.

and churches

I wonder if other people are having the same response I’m having to a lot of what Trump says these days: His pronouncements are becoming so divorced from reality that they’re not even worth getting upset over.

That was how I felt Friday about his insistence that houses of worship are “essential”, and his threat to “override” state orders that don’t allow them to open “right now this weekend”. Trump has no authority to override state orders, and in fact the weekend passed without any action on his part. (In his defense, the criticism Trump took for going golfing Sunday morning was unfair. The President practices the same faith as Snow White’s stepmother, and attended services in front of his favorite mirror before teeing off.)

But anyway, ignoring Trump’s role in the discussion, is opening churches a good idea? No.

Church services commonly share a number of factors that make them dangerous during an epidemic: large numbers of people indoors for an extended period, the temptation to touch other people or stand close to them, and singing, which projects virus-laden particles much further than ordinary breathing. (Six feet is not nearly enough social distance if people are singing.) A number of local outbreaks have been traced to Sunday services, funerals, and even choir practices.

Massachusetts started allowing churches to reopen (at 40% capacity) last Monday, but my Unitarian Universalist church in Bedford has no plans to do so anytime soon. (UUs don’t believe that our religion exempts us from epidemiology.) Social-media chatter among my fellow parishioners was universally negative about Governor Baker’s decision. Holding services over Zoom may be a poor substitute for being together, but if staying apart is how we can best take care of each other, that’s what we should do.

I wouldn’t want to belong to a church where people didn’t feel that way.

Trump and Attorney General Barr have made a lot of noise about First Amendment issues. (Now they believe in separation of church and state.) But constitutional issues only arise if churches are treated differently from other organizations that pose a comparable risk to public health. Church buildings have long been subject to zoning rules, building codes, and maximum occupancy limits. Quarantine rules should be no different.

Trump cited the injustice of liquor stores being open when churches are not, but that’s just silly. When hundreds of people start singing together in liquor stores, his argument will begin to make sense. (If you know of such a liquor store, please leave a comment. Testify!)

and Mike Pompeo

In any other administration, he’d have resigned or been fired by now.

In this administration, the inspector general investigating him got fired at his request. It’s hard to say exactly why he was fired, because three different Pompeo scandals were brewing on three different scales: one is personal, one is related to abusing his office for political gain, and one involves abuse of emergency powers to circumvent the will of Congress.

Walk the dog. The simplest scandal is the personal one. Pompeo reportedly used a State Department staffer to “walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife, among other personal errands”.

This kind of abuse has become just the way things work in the Trump administration. Trump himself doesn’t even pretend to be upset by it.

I have you telling me about dog walking, washing dishes and you know what, I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn’t there or his kids aren’t

This gets back to a basic failure in Trump’s thinking: He has never understood the difference between himself and his office. He thinks the powers and perks of his office belong to him as a person, and there makes no separation between their legitimate and illegitimate use. Here, he has extended that vision to Pompeo: If you work for the Secretary of State, you work for Mike Pompeo personally. There’s no distinction.

BTW: It shouldn’t matter, but the dog is adorable.

Madison dinners. Since taking over the State Department in 2018, Pompeo and his wife have hosted about two dozen “Madison Dinners” on the taxpayers’ dime, to the tune of “several hundred dollars per plate”. NBC News estimates the total cost of the dinners running “into the six figures”.

State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo’s political ambitions — complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo’s personal email address.

Guests include billionaire conservative donors, media figures (skewed “heavily toward conservative TV personalities, with 39 percent of them from Fox News”), members of Congress (all Republicans), lobbyists, and celebrities like country singer Reba McEntire and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Pompeo has also been criticized for his frequent trips back to Kansas paid for by the State Department. Kansas is not noted for its extensive foreign policy significance, but Mitch McConnell wants Pompeo to run for the Senate there.

Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration has long faced bipartisan pushback in Congress against its pro-Saudi positions. One way this manifested was in congressional resistance to selling arms for the Saudis to use in their bloody war in Yemen. Almost exactly a year ago, Trump pushed an arms sale through by declaring an emergency. This exploited a loophole in the Arms Control Act.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement. “There is no new ’emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there. This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.”

It was particularly odd that the entire $8 billion sale was considered an emergency, including weapons that were not even built yet. Pompeo went against the advice he had been getting from career State Department diplomats, but

“They seemed to have a game plan and it had to be justified,” said a State Department official who told CNN they had communicated what happened to the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General during an interview late last year, as part of the watchdog’s investigation into Pompeo’s move to fast track the sale.

“The attitude was very Trumpian,” the official added.

Pompeo’s demand meant State Department officials had to reverse engineer the situation to provide the justification for a decision which was made in an aggressive and unconventional manner, the sources said.

The fired inspector general was known to be looking into this sale. Pompeo had refused to meet with the IG for an interview, but agreed to answer written questions.

Wired spells out just how completely Pompeo has changed his tune since leaving Congress to take over the CIA and then the State Department. In Congress, he believed that Congress had a responsibility to watchdog the Obama administration. But now he thwarts congressional oversight at every turn.

and Hong Kong

The coronavirus pandemic interrupted a series of confrontations between Hong Kong democracy protesters and the Beijing-supported government. In April, several leaders of the democracy movement were arrested.

The Chinese National People’s Congress began meeting on Friday.

Beijing’s 3,000-member rubber-stamp legislature is poised to usher in controversial “national security” legislation that would ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion in the former British colony.

There’s mounting fear that Beijing would use the new laws to subvert semi-autonomous Hong Kong’s remaining rights, which include freedom of speech and assembly, and the city’s independent judiciary. If that happens, it would be a death knell for the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that officially guarantees Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy until 2047.

The Trump administration “strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal“, but Trump’s record supporting Hong Kong has been spotty. (He once described the democracy protests as “riots“, echoing Chinese government propaganda.)

The administration’s China policy has been all over the map. Trump has alternately flattered President Xi and talked about getting tough with China. It’s never been clear whether he was taking national-security issues with China seriously, or just using them for leverage in a trade deal. Recently he’s been attacking China to divert attention from his own failure to respond to the coronavirus crisis, and trying to tie presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden to China.

Whatever he ends up doing or saying about Hong Kong will probably have more to do with those factors than with Hong Kong itself. Xi will undoubtedly read it that way and respond accordingly.

and Joe Biden

Joe Biden appeared on CNBC Friday morning and answered questions from their hosts. You might think that being a sister of MSNBC would prejudice them in Biden’s favor, but CNBC is the business network in the NBC stable, so its programming is pitched towards investors who lean more conservative. It’s more of a Tory conservatism than Tea Party conservatism, a little like “The Economist”.

So it was a polite interview (the hosts were never aggressive or hostile with him) but also a challenging one. Biden was asked difficult questions (with occasional follow-ups) about taxes, China, healthcare, energy, re-opening the economy, and what kind of further stimulus or support the economy might need. (He wasn’t asked about issues unrelated to investments, like the Tara Reade accusation or who his running mate will be.)

Nothing in the interview surprised me from a policy standpoint. For example, he repeated the healthcare position he has held for some while: He doesn’t support Medicare for All, but he does want to expand ObamaCare and give it a Medicare-like public option. He thinks the government’s fiscal response to the current economic crisis should be aimed at Main Street rather than Wall Street.

Realizing I wasn’t going to hear policy changes, I started trying to evaluate Biden’s mental processes, since Trump wants to make that an issue. The main thing I noticed was that Biden’s mind — unlike Trump’s — seems flexible. He can shift contexts and subjects when necessary, but he can also stay on a subject when that’s appropriate. He doesn’t blather — as Trump often does — to hide the fact that he can’t place what the questioner is asking. (This is speculation, but I believe that a lot of Trump’s insults happen when he has talked himself into a corner and doesn’t know how to finish whatever he started to say. Insulting the questioner interrupts the conversation and sets it on a new path.)

Late in the interview Biden starts to miss words, creating sentences that look bad in the transcript. (At one point he talks about “a system nationwide that can transmit coal and wind across the country”, which doesn’t make sense. I suspect he’s talking about long-distance load-balancing on the electrical grid, to compensate for the unpredictability of wind and solar production. But the subject goes by too fast to be sure.)

This is a kind of mental glitch I’m familiar with, because my father had fairly severe aphasia as he got older: He didn’t have any trouble thinking, but it became increasingly difficult for him to find the right words to express his thoughts. (One telling example: Dad needed to buy something to complete a household project, but he couldn’t tell me the name of the store he wanted to go to or what street it was on. So we just started driving, and he told me to turn here and turn there. He guided me straight to a paint store, got the thing he wanted, and went home to finish the project. His mind was perfectly clear and never wandered; he just couldn’t communicate what he was thinking.)

Biden’s word-loss problems aren’t nearly as bad as Dad’s were, but they seem similar. To me, it sounds like he quickly revises sentences in his head when he realizes he’s not coming up with a word he wants. As a result, he often interrupts himself, and occasionally the sentence he says is some unfortunate combination of the original and the revised sentence.

What I don’t see is any evidence of an impairment in his thinking process. To the extent that there’s a problem at all, it’s in his words, not in his thoughts.

Biden also did a long interview with Stephen Colbert.

I suppose I have to mention Biden’s flip comment on the Breakfast Club radio show that “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

I think the best take on that statement came from The Root’s Michael Harriot: Biden proved once again that he’s a white man in America. The facial expression I read into Harriot’s article is an eye-roll, not shock or horror.

Like most Biden “gaffes”, it’s clear what he meant, and there’s an accurate thought back there that he should have expressed better: He doesn’t understand why a black voter should have trouble picking between Barack Obama’s vice president and a guy who thinks white supremacists are “very fine people”. Neither do I.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza put Biden’s statement into perspective by pointing out that Trump says or tweets something that bad or worse literally every day, and supported his claim by finding eight more outrageous Trump comments from the previous 48 hours.

and you also might be interested in …

Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker writes an NYT op-ed “Don’t Bail Out the States“.

Workers and small businesses need help more than government bureaucracies.

In Walker’s universe, people who get their paychecks from governments — i.e.,  teachers, firemen, police, EMTs, and the people who fill potholes and keep the traffic lights working — they’re not “workers”, they’re “bureaucrats”. All the scrambling the governors have been doing to get masks for nurses and ventilators for critical patients in the ICU — that’s “bureaucracy”.

And here’s an interesting retelling of history:

federal funding is likely to diminish over time, creating further holes in state budgets. Shortfalls created by the disappearance of federal stimulus funds was a primary reason for the budget crisis that many state governments faced after the last recession.

That was kind of the point: delaying state budget crises until after the recession, rather than forcing states to lay off thousands and thousands of workers (yes, they are workers) at the same time everybody else was laying off workers.

And if the pandemic has shown anything, it’s that when a deadly crisis hits, somebody has to be able to do what needs doing without checking with the accountants first. At the moment, the only entity that has that power is the federal government; states eventually have to balance their budgets. But Walker recommends we give that option up too.

Even without bailing out state governments, federal spending levels are unsustainable. It is exactly why we need a balanced-budget amendment to force politicians in Washington — in both parties — to get serious about balancing the federal budget.

If Walker worries about the deficit, he must have been really horrified when the Trump tax cut was passed, blowing $1.9 trillion hole in the country’s 10-year budget projection. Well, no. He liked that. Running a deficit to support executive bonuses and stock buy-backs — that’s just great. It’s only running a deficit to save lives that bothers him.

You can expect to see lots more of this deficit hypocrisy after Biden takes office in January.

Finally, Walker never answers the question his proposals raise: Who should we let die of the virus rather than borrow money to treat them? Who should we let go without food or shelter, so that they can die in our streets?

The Trump administration has used the coronavirus emergency to make its border policies even more cruel than they already were.

Historically, young migrants who showed up at the border without adult guardians were provided with shelter, education, medical care and a lengthy administrative process that allowed them to make a case for staying in the United States. Those who were eventually deported were sent home only after arrangements had been made to assure they had a safe place to return to.

That process appears to have been abruptly thrown out under President Trump’s latest border decrees. Some young migrants have been deported within hours of setting foot on American soil. Others have been rousted from their beds in the middle of the night in U.S. government shelters and put on planes out of the country without any notification to their families.

Grist looks at how much the lockdown has decreased carbon emissions, both worldwide and in the US. The drop is significant, but maybe not as large as you might have hoped.

A new analysis in the science journal Nature Climate Change … found that the world is on track for the biggest emissions drop since World War II, or maybe even the biggest drop in history, depending on how long global lockdowns stay in place. (The study estimates that by the end of the year emissions could decline anywhere between 2 to 13 percent overall, depending on the nature and duration of governments’ lockdown policies.) During the peak of global lockdowns in early April, average daily emissions decreased by 17 percent compared to the 2019 average, hitting their lowest point since 2006. Nearly half of those emissions were from “surface transport,” like car rides.

In a 2018 report, the IPCC called for much steeper reductions by 2030 and 2050.

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.

The lesson I draw from this is that we can’t get there just by cutting back. We need big changes to how major systems work, not just restraint in how much we use them.

Binyamin Appelbaum wrote an article on homelessness whose title says it all: “America’s Cities Could House Everyone If They Chose To“.

Homelessness is often blamed on mental illness or drug addiction or some other individual failing. But while those problems might be contributing causes in specific cases, the main cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing.

 According to one analysis, a $100 increase in the average monthly rent in a large metro area is associated with a 15 percent increase in homelessness. Consider a simple comparison: In 2018, eight out of every 10,000 Michigan residents were homeless. In California, it was 33 per 10,000. In New York, it was 46 per 10,000.

Other countries do better with a different approach.

Countries confronting homelessness with greater success than the United States, including Finland and Japan, begin by treating housing as a human right. In the United States, by contrast, politicians decry the problem but aim for more modest goals. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to New York last December “to end long-term street homelessness as we know it” is a classic of the genre; most homeless people in the city live in shelters, not on the street.

Rather than blaming homelessness on psychological or substance-abuse problems, we should begin treating the other problems by getting people off the streets. Other countries do this, as do some veterans programs here.

This is cheaper than leaving people to remain homeless and then intervening intermittently. One study found that in the two years after a person entered supportive housing in New York, he or she spent on average 83 fewer days in shelters, 28 fewer days in psychiatric hospitals and four fewer days in prison.

The first painting I ever loved was probably a cliche. Now I understand why it moved me so.” This beautiful piece of introspection and reminiscence by Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott doesn’t connect to any current news story, but read it anyway. At the time — when he was 10 or 12 — he didn’t care who painted the scene of an old French town or when it was painted. In adulthood he can’t find his old poster or identify the painting. And if he did, what then?

I want to see it as I was then, not as I am now. I want to see it with the eyes that needed it.

This is one of the lessons grief teaches us, the futility of that desire to possess the world as it once was, even if art keeps trying to tell us the opposite: that the old place is just there, round the bend in the road, and it’s always waiting for you.

and let’s close with some stress reduction … maybe

With so much stress in our lives these days, we could all use some relief. Though, this Dalek relaxation tape is maybe not the way to get there.

You might have better luck with a different mantra.


It’s always interesting to me to see how much patience some people have with the pain and suffering of other people.

– Speaker Nancy Pelosi (5-15-2020)

It seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die.

– Jonathan Ashbach, “Is Social Distancing Saving LIves or Ruining Them?
The Federalist (3-23-2020)

This week’s featured post is “Trump Has No Endgame“.

This week everybody was weighing economic risks against health risks

Current total: 91K dead. That’s up about 10K from last week, representing a slow decline. The two weeks before both had 13K increases. We’ll see what happens going forward as states relax their anti-virus restrictions in some well-considered and poorly-considered ways.

Probably the worst reopening situation is in Wisconsin, where the Supreme Court abruptly threw out the state’s stay-at-home order. The leaders of the state’s heavily gerrymandered legislature (Democrats get more votes from the people, but Republicans get more seats in the legislature) won even more than they asked for: They had asked for the ruling to be stayed for six days so that they could work out a plan with the governor. Instead, the Court just ended the order immediately.

Reading the judges’ opinions is sobering. The majority opinion is an unlikely reading of the law, in which the stay-at-home order is technically a “rule” and not an order, so it should have gone through the emergency rule-making process. The dissenting opinion by Rebecca Frank Dallet shreds that opinion, pointing out that

The emergency rulemaking process set forth in Wis. Stat. §227.24 includes 11-13 steps which the briefing indicates takes a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 49 days.

when the law empowering the Department of Health Services to respond to epidemics uses the word “immediate”. She goes through the history of such orders, going back to the 1918 flu, and finds nothing resembling the “rule-making” the majority sees here.

As opposed to legal analysis, the concurring judges wrote polemics about tyranny and freedom, and made comparisons to the Japanese internment of World War II.

The result is dangerous chaos:

For weeks, Republicans had argued that their lawsuit against the order was needed simply so the legislature could have some say in the reopening plan. … But now it appears their plan all along was to thwart any plan. Now that they’ve been granted a seat at the table, Republicans have set the table on fire and thrown it out the window. …

The ruling leaves Wisconsin without any statewide rule or guidance in place for businesses, citizens and local governments. After the decision, Republicans said they didn’t see any need for any new rules, instead turning the state into a patchwork of local COVID-19 regulations, stretched throughout nearly 2,000 counties, cities, villages and towns.

Bars in various parts of the state opened immediately, producing scenes of no social distancing like the one below.

I was surprised to see this report from my home town, Quincy, Illinois: A bar — I’ve never been inside, but I’ve walked past it many times — defied the state’s stay-at-home order and opened for a day, producing similar scenes of folks standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar. The owner is a woman with oxygen tubes in her nose.

The top British medical journal “The Lancet” posted a rare political editorial about the importance of a strong CDC that is able to lead global efforts to fight pandemics. Final paragraph:

The Trump administration’s further erosion of the CDC will harm global cooperation in science and public health, as it is trying to do by defunding WHO. A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic. Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.

The economy-versus-public-health dichotomy we so often hear from the administration and see in the media is a frustrating misframing of the situation. Even though I am liberal — and so presumably pro-health and anti-economy — I would like nothing better than to hear some clever ideas to safely re-open the businesses that I frequented before the crisis. I want to go to restaurants, get my hair cut, attend baseball games, and hang around in coffee shops as much as any conservative. I just don’t want to kill people to do it.

What I’d really like to see is a Mythbusters approach to coronavirus risk. The TV show Mythbusters, if you remember, used to regularly do extremely dangerous things: They blew up a cement mixer, dropped a car from a helicopter, and demonstrated how defective water heaters might blast up through a house’s roof. But the ethos of the show wasn’t to flaunt danger and cheat death, it was to understand risk, analyze it, and find ways to protect against it. One of the show’s operating principles was: Anything can be made safe with enough precautions.

So Adam and Jamie never told each other that it wasn’t risky to blow up a cement mixer; they just figured out a safe way to do it. And after they had a safety plan that worked, they had the courage to carry it out.

But on the right these days, we hear a lot of talk about “courage” and not “living in fear” of the virus — usually from people who reject even easy safety measures like wearing masks or maintaining social distance. But what they’re promoting isn’t courage at all, it’s a combination of denial and self-centeredness. Most people don’t die of the virus, so we should tell ourselves that we’ll be in the lucky majority. Millions of other people might not be, but that’s just their bad luck. It couldn’t possibly happen to us, and that’s all that matters.

For example, here’s Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin:

I’m not denying what a nasty disease COVID-19 can be, and how it’s obviously devastating to somewhere between 1 and 3.4 percent of the population. But that means 97 to 99 percent will get through this and develop immunities and will be able to move beyond this. But we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about. We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu … getting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population (and) I think probably far less.

In other words, he’s OK with the possibility that more than 11 million Americans (that’s what 3.4% works out to; his lower estimate of 1% is about 3 1/3 million) might die horrible deaths, not to mention the millions of others who will survive but suffer long-term damage.

The Republican Party describes itself as “pro-life”, but clearly it isn’t. That claim should never again go unchallenged.

Speaking of clever ideas for safely reopening, here’s how a German cafe enforces social distancing: Customers wear pool noodles on their heads.

There’s no reason (other than Trump’s divisiveness) that safety measures ever had to become a political issue. Yes, pool noodles are goofy, but what’s wrong with looking a little goofy to protect each other from a deadly disease? Looking silly together could be a bonding experience, like karaoke.

But Trump cultists don’t see it that way. In Indiana, a 7-11 clerk was scalded with hot coffee and beaten for telling a customer to wear a mask. In California, two men broke the arm of a Target employee. In Texas, armed men defended a hair salon that had illegally re-opened. The NYT reports:

In at least a half dozen cases around [Texas] in recent days, frustrated small-business owners have turned to heavily armed, militia-style protesters like Mr. Archibald’s group to serve as reopening security squads.

Michigan State professor Matt Grossman explains:

The public doesn’t polarize on its own. It polarizes when political leaders and different parties send different messages. That is happening more in the U.S. than in other countries.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Jess McIntosh, host of the “Signal Boost” show on Sirius XM’s Progress channel, makes a good point. It’s probably not completely true, but I’ll bet it’s mostly true.

It’s not about “reopening the economy.” People aren’t protesting for the right to BE waitresses and hairdressers, they’re fighting for the right to HAVE them. This is about white people demanding service.

Eric Trump accuses Democratic governors of banning large-crowd gatherings just to hurt Trump’s re-election campaign.

After November 3, coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen. They’re trying to deprive [President Trump] of his greatest asset, which is … that he can go out there and draw massive crowds.

You can see where this is going, right? Very soon now, Trumpist governors will have to sign off on stadium-sized gatherings, regardless of the very real health risk to their citizens. And Trump cultists will have to attend to prove how committed they are. Because the virus is all a Democratic hoax, and 90K Americans (and many more by November) aren’t really dead.

and corruption

Last week I had a special post to catalog the Trump administration corruption that had come to light during that week. But corruption is just how this administration operates, so each week produces new corruption stories. This week Trump fired another inspector general — his fourth in the last few months. This one was the State Department IG, Steve Linick.

Representative Eliot L. Engel and Senator Bob Menendez, from the House and Senate committees that oversee the State Department, wrote to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows:

Reports indicate that Secretary Pompeo personally made the recommendation to fire Mr. Linick, and it is our understanding that he did so because the Inspector General had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself. Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation.

Their letter does not discuss the substance of the investigation, but the New York Times fills that in:

a Democratic aide said that Mr. Linick had been looking into whether Mr. Pompeo improperly used a political appointee at the State Department to perform personal tasks for him and his wife. … Since starting his current job in April 2018, Mr. Pompeo has come under growing public scrutiny for what critics say is his use of the State Department’s resources for personal endeavors. Mr. Menendez has called for Mr. Pompeo to explain how he can justify frequent trips to Kansas, his adopted home state, using State Department funds and aircraft. He has brought his wife, Susan Pompeo, on many trips abroad, telling others she is a “force multiplier” for him. And CNN reported last year that congressional officials were looking at potential misuse of diplomatic security personnel for personal errands.

Former Moderna executive Moncef Slaoui is leading the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which is supposed to deliver large quantities of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of 2020. He also

still holds over 156,000 Moderna stock options, worth over $10 million at the company’s current stock price, creating a potential conflict of interest if the company’s vaccine is the first to be proven effective.

Moderna announced encouraging Phase 1 results on its vaccine candidate today. But there’s still a long way to go.

The WaPo’s Pulitzer-winning David Fahrenthold is back at it: The US government has paid for more than 1,600 nights at Trump-owned hotels and clubs since Trump took office. Federal records show at least $970,000 of government money has been paid to Trump’s company.

Eric Trump has previously claimed that the Trump Organization gives the government a good rate “like fifty bucks”. This seems not to be true.

But in the 1,600 room rentals examined by The Post, there were no examples of a rate that low. Instead, the lowest room rate was $141.66 per night, for each of the rooms in a four-room cottage in Bedminster. The highest rate was $650 per night for rooms at Mar-a-Lago.

This practice is not just shady, it might also be unconstitutional. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution says:

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

The foreign money going into Trump’s businesses is also an issue, since the Constitution also forbids any federal official from receiving “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” without the consent of Congress.

Lawsuits based on those constitutional principles have had trouble getting traction in the courts, but Thursday a federal appeals court ruled that a suit filed by Maryland and the District of Columbia could go forward.

and Ahmaud Arbery

I should have mentioned this case last week. By now you probably know about it. Two white men in trucks chased down a black jogger and killed him, claiming that he resembled a suspect in a string of local burglaries.

That happened back in February, and the local police interviewed the whites and pretty much accepted their story. A video of the moments leading up to the shooting was posted by a local radio station and went viral. Only then were the shooters arrested.

All the basic themes of the black-lives-matter movement are here: A black man was assumed to be dangerous and killed. Police didn’t seem to care until a public outcry made them care.

That second part is the key point. Whites sometimes kill blacks and blacks sometimes kill whites; that’s not the major issue. The point is that when whites kill blacks, often the police aren’t interested.

and the Reade accusation

PBS Newshour tried to talk to 200 or so people who were on Joe Biden’s Senate or White House staff at one time or another, and they managed to get in touch with 74 of them, including 64 women, to see what they thought about Tara Reade’s accusation of sexual assault and digital penetration.

The staffers corroborate some of the superficial details of Reade’s account: She did work in Biden’s Senate office. She was let go. Where she says she was assaulted is a real place. The errand she says she was on (taking Biden’s gym bag to him at the Capitol gym) is a credible thing someone in her position might have been asked to do. A supervisor (not Biden) did reprimand her for dressing inappropriately.

And no one, of course, claims to know for a fact that the assault didn’t happen or couldn’t have happened, (though many volunteered that they believe the claim is false).

But that’s about where the corroboration stops.

None of the people interviewed said that they had experienced sexual harassment, assault or misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct, until the recent assault allegation made by Tara Reade.

… Female staffers who spent countless hours with Biden, including in one-on-one settings, like his small private office in the U.S. Capitol, known as a “hideaway,” said he never made passes at them or behaved in other ways that suggested sexual impropriety.

… “I traveled with him all over the world, all over the country. I was alone with him all the time,” said Elizabeth Alexander, a former Senate and White House aide. “Never, ever, ever did I feel uncomfortable.”

… “You got to know which senators you didn’t want to be on an elevator alone with,” said Liz Tankersley, who was Biden’s legislative director from 1985 to 1993. “No one ever said Joe Biden was one of them.”

A few of the details of Reade’s account were challenged: As a Senate staffer, she would not have been asked to serve drinks at a fund-raiser.

“Never would have happened,” said Melissa Lefko, who was a staff assistant in Biden’s office during the time Reade was there. “We all knew there was a very hard line there.”

The site of the alleged assault would have made it “a brazen attack in an area with a high risk of being seen” by lobbyists, staff, and even tourists.

In response to last week’s summary post, pro-Bernie commenters put forward the theory that the media delayed covering Reade’s sexual assault accusation until it was too late for the issue to help Sanders get the nomination. As best I can tell, though, the timing of the story was due to Reade, not the media. The Newshour story says explicitly: “Reade did not publicly accuse Biden of sexual assault until March of this year.” (The South Carolina primary, which turned the race in Biden’s favor, happened February 29.) Also, pro-Bernie media outlets existed and could have picked up the story, if it had been out there.

The Washington Post’s never-Trump conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin debunks the “If you believed Christine Blasey Ford, you have to believe Tara Reade” fallacy.

and you also might be interested in …

The House passed an additional $3 trillion stimulus plan, the HEROES act. It includes direct payments to states, more money for individuals, and a variety of other provisions. Republicans are dead set against it, so it’s unlikely to pass the Senate.

But it does put the ball in Mitch McConnell’s court. Lots of states — and not just blue states — are facing big budget shortfalls. And the virus is still picking up momentum in places like Arizona.

Trump’s latest conspiracy theory, “ObamaGate”, is one he couldn’t even explain himself when a reporter asked what crime it alleged. Vox’ Sean Illing explains it as an example of “flooding the zone with shit”.

The goal of zone-flooding is simple: introduce bullshit stories into the information bloodstream, sit back while the media feverishly covers them (from all sides), and then exploit the chaos that results from the subsequent fog of disinformation.

It’s an approach that thrives on conventional journalistic norms around objectivity and fairness. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, a sharp observer of this process, explained it well in a recent piece. His point, like mine, is that reporting on deliberately misleading stories in ostensibly objective ways serves only to reward the bad-faith actors spreading the nonsense in the first place.

Mikel Jowllett, who I am not cool enough to have heard of before, is the front man of Airborne Toxic Event and author of the just-released memoir Hollywood Park. He tweets:

The President is tested every day. Every single person he comes into contact with is also tested. If anyone tests positive, they are immediately quarantined and their contacts are tested. See? He DOES understand how to stop the virus. He just doesn’t give a shit about YOU.

Try to imagine what it would be like to have been at sea by yourself for the past three months.

and let’s close with something both old and new

Denis Shiryaev has come up with impressive techniques for bringing very old film back to life. Here, he produces remarkably crisp and colorized images of Paris in the 1890s.

New Villains

The Justice Department’s new position isn’t that Mr. Flynn didn’t lie — that couldn’t be its position, because he did lie, and he admitted in federal court that he lied. Instead, the new filing argues that it was wrong for the F.B.I. to interview him in the first place. Look carefully at who the villain becomes in that narrative: not Mr. Flynn for lying, but the F.B.I. for asking the questions to which he lied in response.

– Neal K. Katyal and Joshua A. Geltzer
The Appalling Damage of Dropping the Michael Flynn Case

This week’s featured posts are “What’s Up With the Stock Market?” and “This Week in Corruption“.

This week everybody was talking about the virus

As I said last week, the curve seems to have flattened, but isn’t going down. Nationally, we now have about 81K deaths, up 13K from the 68K we had last Monday, and another 13K from the 55K the week before that. The numbers jump up and down a lot from one day to the next, but they average out to a little less than 2,000 deaths a day.

The worrisome thing is that the flatness seems to be hiding two different trends going in opposite directions. Deaths in the New York City area are headed down, while deaths in the rest of the country are headed up. Given the way exponential growth works, I would expect the rising trend to eventually overwhelm the falling trend. It would not surprise me if deaths overall started trending back up in the coming week.

The CDC prepared guidelines for businesses planning to reopen safely, but the White House shelved them.

The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.

And that seems to have been their mistake: The official Trump spin is that reopening is NOT a “difficult decision”. You just do it. If the CDC guidelines made reopening seem like a process that requires forethought and accommodation, it couldn’t go out. And if any node in the decision tree said “stay closed”, that’s anathema.

Trump began by insisting the coronavirus wasn’t serious and wouldn’t be a problem in the US. Then he had to acknowledge that people were dying, but kept moving the goalposts so that any death total could be claimed as a success.

Apparently that’s not working either, so the new strategy is to insist that the death totals are wrong. By November, he will be telling people that their loved ones are not dead, and dismissing those who insist otherwise as “Trump haters” who are only mourning to make him look bad.

The virus is penetrating the White House inner circle. In the last few days, it has shown up in a presidential valet, the VP’s press secretary, and Ivanka’s personal assistant. Pence press secretary Katie Miller also happens to be the wife of the white nationalist White House adviser Stephen Miller (who was once described by an “outside White House adviser” as “Waffen-SS“.) Eleven Secret Service agents are infected.

The White House response to this problem is that Trump, Pence, and the people who come into regular contact with them are tested every day. Apparently, that’s what it takes to make an crowded office building safe. Don’t you wish you worked with someone important, so that your building could be made safe too? Vox considers the “Trump double standard” on testing.

“The notion that everyone needs to be tested is simply nonsensical,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during Wednesday’s press briefing, in response to a question from NBC’s Peter Alexander about why all Americans can’t get tested like the president before they go back to work.

Before you go back to work, read this article about what we know about the risks and how to avoid them.

Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf makes an anti-lockdown argument that is still wrong, but at least makes its assumptions transparent.

If we knew that a broadly effective COVID-19 treatment was imminent, or that a working vaccine was months away, minimizing infections through social distancing until that moment would be the right course. At the other extreme, if we will never have an effective treatment or vaccine and most everyone will get infected eventually, then the costs of social distancing are untenable.

The we-will-all-get-it-eventually assumption, if you make a conservative .5% estimate of the fatality rate, implies that at least 1.6 million Americans will die. But, you know, if millions of deaths are inevitable, we might as well get them over with.

Here’s what’s wrong with that: Other countries look to be avoiding that scenario. New Zealand, for example, seems to have a shot at eliminating the virus. Iceland has also seen a drastic plunge in new cases. In both countries, they’re doing the work our government has avoided: huge amounts of testing and contact tracing. It’s not rocket science, it’s just hard.

It would also cost a lot. But imagine if we took a JFK-esque “pay any price, bear any burden” approach to this crisis, rather than just accept more than million deaths.

In contrast, Jay Rosen sums up where we’re headed now:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible … [T]he plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign.

Talking about Katie Miller, Trump questioned the test result:

This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily right. The tests are perfect, but something can happen between the test, where it’s good, and then something happens and all of  a sudden. She was tested very recently and tested negative. And then today, I guess, for some reason she tested positive.

His first response to bad news is always denial. The idea that this is how infectious diseases work — one day you don’t have it and the next day you do — doesn’t seem to register with him.

Huffington Post reports that Friday 20 Republican congresspeople met with Trump at the White House. No one wore masks (but the media) and social distance was not observed. CNN has a similar story about Trump meeting with military leaders.

Trump demonstrating how much smaller than Abraham Lincoln he is.

And now he’s saying that the virus will “go away without a vaccine“.

and birth control

The Supreme Court is considering another case where a religious organization objects to ObamaCare’s birth-control mandate.

I know it sounds bad to be sued by the Little Sisters of the Poor, but in this case the Sisters are just wrong. Worse than that, they’re being jerks about it.

For [religious] nonprofits, the Obama administration enacted rules providing a work-around to accommodate employers’ religious objections. The workaround was that an employer was to notify the government, or the insurance company, or the plan administrator, that, for religious reasons, it would not be providing birth-control coverage to its employees. Then, the insurance company could provide free birth-control options to individual employees separately from the employer’s plan.

But some religiously affiliated groups still objected, saying the work-around was not good enough, and sued. They contended that signing an opt-out form amounted to authorizing the use of their plan for birth control.

In other words, they’re being passive aggressive about this; any concession at all is too much for them, so the world just has to work around that.

There is a very simple principle that would avoid all these cases (including the horribly-decided Hobby Lobby case): What employees do with their health insurance is not the employer’s business. The Little Sisters are not providing their employees with birth control, they’re providing health insurance. If employees choose to use that health insurance to get birth control, that’s not the Sisters’ business — just like it’s not their business if employees use their paychecks to buy birth control.

but I wrote about corruption and the stock market

Check out the two featured posts. “What’s Up With the Stock Market?” tries to explain how the stock market can diverge so extremely from the economy. “This Week in Corruption” discusses the Michael Flynn fix, Dr. Rick Bright’s whistleblower complaint, and the upcoming Supreme Court case testing Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity”.

and you also might be interested in …

Six Harbors Brewing Company on Long Island has adjusted to the lockdown by delivering beer to customers’ doors, using two beer hounds to do it. Golden retrievers Barley and Buddy do not actually carry the beer themselves — the cans around their necks are empty. But deliveries are up since the dogs have been coming along.

Vox’ Laura McGann relates her history of investigating Tara Reade’s accusations against Joe Biden. When she talked to Reade in April 2019 about her original charge (“This is not a story about sexual misconduct; it is a story about abuse of power. It is a story about when a member of Congress allows staff to threaten or belittle or bully on their behalf unchecked to maintain power rather than modify the behavior.”), “I wanted to break this story. Badly.” But McGann couldn’t assemble the kind of corroboration she felt the story needed (“Reporters who’ve succeeded in forcing powerful men to be held to account relied on an incredible amount of reporting to do it.”) in time to beat other reporters Reade was talking to.

In March 2020, Reade upped the stakes, charging sexual assault including digital penetration. And McGann was back on the story. People who knew Reade at the time (1993) said she had told them about the assault at the time. They were, however, the same people who had corroborated her no-sexual-assault claim a year before. And she referenced an official complaint no one can find.

If Reade had told a consistent story and shared all of her corroborating sources with reporters, if those sources had told a consistent story, if the Union piece had shaken loose other cases like hers, or if there were “smoking gun” evidence in Biden’s papers, her account might have been reported on differently in mainstream media a year ago. It is not fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation, but it’s what reporters have found is necessary for their stories to hold up to public scrutiny and successfully hold powerful men accountable. So we are here.

… All of this leaves me where no reporter wants to be: mired in the miasma of uncertainty. I wanted to believe Reade when she first came to me, and I worked hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe her, too. I couldn’t find it. None of that means Reade is lying, but it leaves us in the limbo of Me Too: a story that may be true but that we can’t prove.

Sabrina Orah Mark studies and writes about fairy tales. But this lovely piece of writing pulls a fairy tale theme into our current quarantine experience. Too often, we identify with fairy tale princesses and heroes, who can live happily ever after if only they can do three impossible tasks. So we look around for our own impossible tasks, hoping that we will deserve happiness if we accomplish them.

Back on April 21, somebody posted a link on Facebook to a story about plans for the Republican Convention. And I made this comment:

I have a fantasy that some prankster hijacks the convention soundtrack, and Trump takes the stage to the strains of “Live and Let Die”.

Well, Trump was touring a mask-making factory in Arizona Tuesday, and guess what happened?

RIP, LIttle Richard.

Baseball comes back to South Korea, but without fans. The stands of Happy Dream Ballpark in Incheon contain placards of fans rather than actual people. The games are televised, and some show up in the middle of the night on ESPN.

and let’s close with something musical

The Phoenix Chamber Choir stays home, but comes together to do a quarantine version of Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time”.

Also worth your time: On April 16 Cyril Ryan posted her brother Dermot’s quarantine version of the Irish folk ballad Lanigan’s Ball.

The Least You Can Do

If you expect elementary school children to endure the trauma of active shooter drills for your freedoms, you can wear a mask to Costco.

– Heidi Freymiller (5-1-2020)

This week’s featured post is “Things We’re Finding Out About the Pandemic“.

This week everybody was talking about states reopening

On Tuesday, NBC News made the same claim I’ve been making here:

no state that has opted to reopen has come close to the federally recommended decline in cases over a 14-day period.

This Fox News clip where Chris Wallace interviews Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is illuminating. Wallace posts the last week of new-case numbers from Mississippi, noting that Friday was a new high of 397 (compared to 281 the previous Friday, and higher than anything in between) and asks “Why are you reopening Mississippi at all when you haven’t met the White House guideline of a steady downward trajectory for two straight weeks?” Governor Reeves replies:

You have to understand that Mississippi is different than New York and Mississippi is different than New Jersey. … They had a huge spike of cases in a very short period of time. But Mississippi is not like that. What we have seen is for the last 35 or 40 days, we’ve been between 200 and 300 cases without a spike. Our hospital system is not stressed. We have less than 100 people in our state on ventilators. … Sometimes the models are different for different states. … We believe that particular gating criteria just doesn’t work in states like ours, who have never had more than 300 cases in any one day, with the exception of Friday.

If you look at their daily death totals, Mississippi has been losing about 10-12 people a day since mid-April, with extremes of 2 (April 27) and 20 (May 1). Reeves is saying, essentially, “We’re OK with more deaths than that.” He’s also ignoring how infectious disease work: New York had 2 deaths on March 18 and 4 on March 19. Mississippians have no special immunity.

This is an example of the peculiar myopia that makes conservatives such poor guardians of public health. Public health is necessarily social, and conservatives see only individuals. (As Maggie Thatcher put it: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”) It may be true that an individual Mississippian going to a bar or restaurant right now faces a much different risk than a New Yorker. But that doesn’t mean Mississippi isn’t at risk.

and the meat-packing order

It’s easy to get overcome by righteous anger at workers being ordered to risk their lives. But at the same time it’s hard to figure out what is actually real in this story.

Start with this: Meat-packing plants have been the sources of several of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the country, especially among those in rural areas or small towns. Several of them have had to close down, at least temporarily. Management has promised that workers will all be tested, but a lot of them actually haven’t been. Mother Jones reports about a JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado:

Those who have returned talk about improved conditions, including temperature monitoring before each shift and staggered lunch breaks, but there’s a looming fear that the virus is still spreading silently among the workforce. The company still hasn’t implemented all-employee testing and contact tracing or provided sequestration housing for sick workers, two strategies that the health department deemed necessary before the plant should reopen. Yet the Republican-controlled board of Weld County Commissioners is not only allowing JBS to remain open but encouraging all businesses in Greeley to reopen this week.

Into the middle of this, the White House says that Trump is ordering all meat-packing plants to stay open. Except, that’s not quite what the executive order says. The order isn’t addressed to the meat-packers, or anybody other than the Secretary of Agriculture. The order delegates to the Ag-Sec the president’s power to invoke the Defense Production Act “to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry, consistent with the guidance for the operations of meat and poultry processing facilities jointly issued by the CDC and OSHA.” Whatever that means.

The meat-packing plants have not all reopened yet, though Secretary Perdue (no relation to Perdue Chicken) expects them to in “days, not weeks“. Whether he has actually invoked the DPA is unclear. Exactly what has been done to make the workers safer is iffy. Whether the workers will show up when the plants reopen is also unclear.

“I don’t see it having much effect,” said Stephen Meyer, an economist at Kerns & Associates working with the pork industry. “You can tell anybody to open up a plant, but if the workers don’t show up, it doesn’t work.”

“It’s nice of the President to think we’re important and everything, but I don’t think it’s going to cause very many plants to open,” he added.

So, Trump got his on-camera moment looking all decisive and presidential, but it’s not clear what he actually accomplished for good or ill.

BTW: As I revealed last week, I owned Tyson stock for a few weeks, but sold it when I noticed the infection stories.

and Joe Biden

This week Biden released a statement and took questions about the Tara Reade accusation that he sexually assaulted her when she was a staffer in his Senate office in 1993. He made a full denial: “This never happened.”

Democrats and other liberals have been having a fairly calm and sensitive discussion of the issue, especially compared to the foaming at the mouth we saw from conservatives during the Kavanaugh hearings. There’s a general consensus that Reade’s story needs to be heard and examined, but also that we shouldn’t automatically assume it’s true.

Reade was one of several women who came forward last year to talk about how Biden touched them in ways they found inappropriate, or stood too close to them, or otherwise made them feel uncomfortable. She told The Union, a California newspaper:

“He used to put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck,” Reade said. “I would just kind of freeze and wait for him to stop doing that.”

None of the accusations against Biden at that time were overtly sexual; Biden sounded like a lot of guys of his generation who hadn’t gotten the memo about how to treat women in the workplace in this era. If you wanted to be generous to him, you could assume no bad intent on his part.

But in March, after Biden had all but clinched the Democratic nomination for president, Reade began to tell a more damaging story: Biden pushed her against a wall, put his hand up her skirt and pushed a finger into her vagina.

Like most stories of this type, there are no uninvolved witnesses to the act itself. Reade’s brother and a neighbor say she told them about the assault soon afterward. Reade claims she complained to her supervisors at the time, but they say she didn’t.

Reade now says she made claims of sexual harassment, but not assault, to her supervisors in Biden’s office; they vehemently deny hearing any such complaint. She says she was told to find a new job by a supervisor, but she has also changed her recollection of which supervisor it was when speaking to reporters in recent weeks (all of the people she named deny it). The AP contacted 21 former Biden staffers, none of whom remember any Reade complaint against their boss. Reade also claims she complained to the Senate personnel office; there is no record of it.

Biden has asked the National Archives to look for Reade’s complaint.

My point of view on this is skewed by a prior prediction. (I’m not sure whether I made it on this blog or just in social media.) Early in the primary campaign I argued that the Democrats should nominate a woman (I ultimately endorsed Elizabeth Warren), and one of my reasons was that after the Kavanaugh battle, Republicans would find an accuser for any man the Democrats nominated. (BTW: I still believe that is true, and that abandoning Biden won’t fix it. If he’s replaced by Cuomo or any of the other men whose names have been floated, an accusation against the new candidate will surface as well.)

I’m not saying Reade was put up to this by the Republicans. But if Reade didn’t exist, she would have to be invented. I have no special reason not to believe her account, but I was anticipating somebody’s accusation and prepared not to believe it.

Several Obama staffers have made the same point: We investigated Biden pretty thoroughly back in 2008, and we didn’t find any trace of this.

Biden’s request to the National Archives has gotten subsumed by the idea that he should open the collection of his Senate papers that he gave to the University of Delaware, on the condition that they not be available to scholars until after he had left public life. Biden has refused this, claiming that (1) records about Reade or her complaint wouldn’t be in there anyway; and (2) the collection contains a lot internal office memos and things that would be embarrassing to numerous people, not just him.

The what-should-Biden-reveal issue is a separate thing from the Reade accusation itself. Heather Cox Richardson wrote about it at length on Saturday, and I think she nailed it: This is Hillary’s emails all over again.

Trump and his GOP enablers are controlling today’s political narrative, just as they did before the 2016 election.

… The files will contain the sausage making of various political issues that can be cherrypicked to destroy careers (not just Biden’s). Of course Trump people want to expose everything Biden did as a senator. Media outlets are salivating to get into the papers for their own reasons: can you imagine the stories detailing rivalries from the thirty years Biden was in the Senate? It would rival the hay made off the stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 which, after all, revealed nothing illegal, but embarrassed Hillary Clinton and the DNC.

The pressure on Biden to release his papers strikes me as the bad faith use of an important political conversation to score political points. It is vital to uncover the truth of what happened between Biden and Reade, but that’s not what’s going on here. Observers are demanding the release of material that has been donated in good faith for future researchers, to uncover information that we know full well would not be stored there. But it would certainly weaken Biden as a candidate.

At the same time, Trump simply refuses to show anyone anything. Once again, the media is dancing to his tune, making Biden’s reluctance to open his Senate records look nefarious while giving Trump a pass

Whatever Biden reveals, it will not be enough. And meanwhile, Trump will have revealed nothing. Still no tax returns. Nothing about his Russian investors. All conversations related to his obstruction of justice or his Ukraine extortion remain privileged.

and Trump’s brownshirts

I know they’re not calling themselves brownshirts — and Trump is calling them “very good people“, similar to his characterization of the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville as “very fine people” — but when you “protest” with an AR-15, you’re not protesting, you’re trying to intimidate and terrorize.

A person carrying a gun to go hunting or target shooting is transporting the weapon to use for its lawful and intended purpose. Whether armed protesters admit it or not, gun-carrying to a political rally serves a different, disturbing and unnecessary purpose: intimidation. It is inherent in the act, putting it squarely at odds with vigorous, open and lawful political dissent.

This woman at an Illinois rally gives the game away with her “Arbeit Macht Frei” message to Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker. The slogan “Work Makes Free” comes from the Nazi concentration camps. Pritzker is Jewish.

It’s important not to tar everyone with the same brush. I’m sure a lot of people who protest the lockdowns just want to go to the beach. But white supremacist or neo-fascist groups like the Proud Boys are at the core of these protests, and are using them to recruit.

Rule of thumb: If you’re at a protest and the people around you have AR-15s or are quoting Nazis, go home.

So many people have made this point already that I won’t belabor it, but only white men could do this. Black or brown people who tried to enter a state capitol with military-style weapons would be ordered to the ground, and if they didn’t comply fast enough they’d be killed. It’s that simple.

When the Black Panthers took guns to the California state capitol in 1967, they were disarmed, despite the fact that they were breaking no laws. California subsequently passed a gun control law, with the support of the NRA. The Second Amendment isn’t an issue when black people are being disarmed.

and you also might be interested in …

It looks like North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un is fine. There’s no official explanation of why he didn’t appear in public for about three weeks, but maybe it had something to do with coronavirus.

George W. Bush released a three-minute video to encourage the nation in this time of crisis. In it, he strikingly demonstrates the human qualities that Trump lacks.

Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat. In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.

Bush was never known as Mr. Empathy, but nothing about being a Republican forces a person to be callous and self-centered. Trump is doing that on his own.

Naturally, Trump viewed this example of leadership as an attack, and struck back.

@PeteHegseth “Oh bye the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside.” @foxandfriends He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!

Actually, Trump should be thanking Bush for staying silent during impeachment. The ex-president could have been pointing out the obvious fact that Trump was guilty. If partisanship had been put aside, and if Congress had responded only to the facts, Trump would have been removed from office.

Last Monday I wrote about “Why the Country isn’t Rallying Around Trump’s Flag“. Thursday, Vox’ Roge Karma took on the exact same topic, but added an international angle: “Many world leaders have seen double-digit polling surges amid coronavirus. Trump isn’t one of them.

Like me, Karma observes that Americans are rallying around their governors, many of whom have seen large increases in their approval ratings. But his data about other world leaders is also illuminating.

But ultimately he came to the same conclusion I did: Unity is just not what Trump does.

There’s been a lot of focus on how the Trump administration was technically and strategically unprepared for this crisis — and that’s true. But there’s also a way in which Trump himself was not temperamentally or ideologically prepared for it either. Trump built his political career atop fracture, conflict, and polarization. But he’s just collided with a crisis that demands solidarity, unity, and mutuality.

James Hamblin wonders:

I’m curious how psychiatrists diagnose people with depression now. Usually if people come in saying they’ve stopped leaving home, feel like every day is the same, are constantly overwhelmed by the plight of humanity, stopped getting dressed, stopped showering … typically a yes.

Now that’s all normal behavior.

I try to minimize the these-people-are-assholes anecdotes, because I could fill the whole Sift with them every week. I’m not sure who would benefit from reading them.

But the Mike-Pence-face-mask thing stands out, though, because it’s got all the elements: (1) the original assholery: Pence toured Mayo Clinic and ignored their regulations about wearing a face mask. He even let himself be photographed barefaced. (2) the lie: After a bunch of bogus excuses didn’t impress anybody, his people lied: They said Pence didn’t know about the rule. Also, Pence is apparently too dense to look around, see that everyone else is wearing a mask, and ask a question. (3) claiming victimhood: When a reporter caught them in the lie — pointing out that Pence’s staff had told reporters planning to go on the trip that they’d need to bring masks — Pence’s people called a foul on the reporter: That pre-trip notification was off the record, so the reporter owed Pence an apology.

and let’s close with nine good minutes

Just because school is out and they’re scattered to the winds, that doesn’t mean that over 100 Julliard musicians and dancers couldn’t work together on this amazing performance of Bolero. Be sure to check out the making-of article.

Speculation and Circumstances

Due to recent speculation and social media activity, RB (the makers of Lysol and Dettol) has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).

The Reckitt Benckiser Group

This week’s featured posts are “Why the Country Isn’t Rallying Around Trump’s Flag” and “Trump is Still Eating Souls“.

This week everybody was talking about states reopening

As I pointed out last week, no state truly fulfilled the criteria that the federal guidelines set out for beginning to roll back stay-at-home orders or other lockdown provisions. But Georgia allowed a variety of non-essential businesses, like barbers and nail salons, to open on Friday. Some of them did, but others decided not to. Restaurants and movie theaters will be allowed to open today.

A few other states are reopening a few types of businesses, and most states have announced a planning process that will lead to reopening at some undetermined future date.

Even if government allows it, reopening is a complex decision for a business to make. Of course you want to get your revenue stream started again. But are you telling your workers and your customers that you don’t care about their health? And if social distancing requires a restaurant to reduce its number of tables or a theater to reduce its seating, does its business model still work?

Everybody wants life to go back to normal, when you could go out to the mall without worrying about dying on a ventilator. But “back to normal” requires more than just unlocking the mall.

Also last week: I predicted that Trump would throw Republican governors under the bus. Thursday, a headline in the WaPo read: “Donald Trump Just Threw Georgia’s Governor Directly Under the Bus on Coronavirus“.

A reopen-the-economy protest in Arizona backfired when ICU nurse Lauren Leander showed up and silently observed. She was one of four healthcare workers at the rally. Healthcare workers have shown up at similar rallies around the country.

That poor guy with the flag, unable to intimidate one skinny little female. He’ll have to go home and order a big new gun to restore his manhood.

Congress passed another half-trillion in money for small businesses and hospitals. The one saving grace of Trump’s presidency is that deficits only matter when a Democrat is in office.

and the death totals rising

Friday, the United States recorded its 50,000th coronavirus death. This morning, we’re up to 990K cases and 55,506 deaths. That’s up from 40K deaths last Monday and 22K the week before. So the new deaths this week were slightly down, from 18K to 15K. Unless the trends slow down a lot faster, we’ll pass 60,000 deaths before the next Weekly Sift comes out on May 4.

If you remember, 60K has been tossed around as the likely total number of American deaths from this entire pandemic. That we’re sailing past it with considerable momentum should make everyone stop and think.

The IHME, [IHME Director Christopher Murray] said, will update its estimates next week to reflect a gloomier future amid indications that states like Georgia will begin to reopen — and boost the odds of a prolonged pandemic.

“We had presumed, perhaps naively, that given the magnitude of the epidemic, most states would stick to their social distancing until the end of May,” Murray said. “That is not happening.”

Another milestone likely to be passed in the next few days: 58,209, the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War. We passed the Korean War total of 36,516 a week or so ago without much fanfare.

Confession time: I have been an economic pessimist for at least a year, so I happened to be in a relatively good position when the stock market collapsed. I lost money, of course, but I also had some cash to reinvest at the new low prices. I went looking for companies that would still be able to sell their products, and one I picked was Tyson Foods, the meat company. I was still buying chicken, so I figured everybody else must be also.

A couple weeks ago, when stories of the virus outbreaks at meat-packing plants started to surface, I realized that I had inadvertently joined the ranks of the villains: People were dying to make me money. Meat-packing plants are set up to crowd workers together, so if one of them gets sick, it spreads quickly.

So I sold the stock (at a profit, which feels weird). Anyway, yesterday Tyson took out full-page ads in major newspapers to emphasize how important it is to keep their plants open. They’re vital to the nation’s food supply and so on (which is true, but is only part of the picture). The letter from their chairman is very precisely worded, so he at least appears to care about the health and safety of his workers. But it’s hard not to be skeptical of lines like: “The government bodies at the national, state, and city levels must unite in a comprehensive, thoughtful, and productive way to allow our team members to work in safety without fear, panic, or worry.”

It kind of sounds like, “If we only kill a few workers, regulators should let us get away with it.”

From an editorial in National Catholic Reporter:

The question for the church in the United States is whether we will come out of this austere moment able to admit the role Catholics and their leaders played in electing and enabling a man who, far from being pro-life, has proven himself a distinct danger to life on several levels. …

This awful moment has laid bare the high cost to the U.S. church of 30 years or more of accommodation to a culture of political expediency and an attempt to diminish the community of faith’s responsibility to the common good. Single-issue voting relieved too many of us of the responsibility to engage deeper political and historical realities. The questions we’re left with are urgent.

The reckoning is upon us.

Dr. Fauci gets his wish: Brad Pitt plays him on SNL.


and injecting disinfectant

which you SHOULDN’T DO, under any circumstances. (Not that you ever would.)

In “Trump is Still Eating Souls“, I talked about the Thursday briefing where Trump suggested this, focusing not on why he said such a stupid thing (I think we all know the answer to that) but why none of the medical people corrected him before any damage was done.

If Republicans want to do some whataboutism here, they can point to stupid things Joe Biden has said, of which there are many (though I don’t remember any quite this bad). Words tend to pile up in Biden’s head, and sometimes they come out in an order that doesn’t make sense. Even Barack Obama, who generally thinks clearly on his feet and speaks off-the-cuff in well constructed paragraphs, once flubbed by saying he had visited “57 states“.

The difference is that Biden and Obama have enough strength of character to own up to their mistakes and laugh at themselves. (So could both Presidents Bush. It’s a character thing, not a red/blue thing.) So no Obama apologist had to argue that there really are 57 states, or deny what the tape clearly recorded, or insist that the President had intentionally exaggerated for effect. Instead, Obama confessed, “I understand I said there were 57 states today. It’s a sign that my numeracy is getting a little …” at which point an aide interrupted and ushered journalists out of the room.

But Thursday-into-Friday the White House and the entire Trump propaganda machine had to turn itself inside-out denying the obvious fact that the President had said something asinine and harmful. At first, Fox News just didn’t comment on it. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that the media was to blame for taking Trump’s comments “out of context“. (They hadn’t.) Then Friday, Trump gaslighted the country: His suggestion was “sarcastic”, a sarcasm so subtle that no one — not Birx, not Bryan, not McEnany, not Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham — had recognized it up to that very moment.

But now that’s the official explanation, so all those whose souls Trump has eaten have to parrot it. If anybody says anything else, they are the ones who are being absurd. “How can any adult believe, seriously believe, that he was saying, ‘Hey, people should inject Clorox into their body’?” Fox News host Greg Gutfeld asked incredulously.

That’s how gaslighting works: How can any loyal subject truly believe that the Emperor is walking down the street naked? That’s just crazy.

If Trump’s “sarcasm” didn’t appeal to your sense of humor, try Randy Rainbow’s “A Spoonful of Clorox“. What have you got to lose?

And while we’re singing, here’s The Liar Tweets Tonight by Roy Zimmerman and The ReZisters, featuring Sandy Riccardi, in collaboration with the Raging Grannies of Mendocino.


and the immigration ban

A new executive order shuts down the green-card process for 60 days. Ostensibly this has something to do with the pandemic, but that explanation isn’t credible. Really it’s Trump using the virus as cover for something he wanted to do anyway.

and this just in: Russia helped Trump win

One casualty of the Trump-era news cycle is that by the time evidence comes in and reasonable people have a chance to weigh it, the whole subject feels like ancient history.

Case in point: The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that all Trump’s talk about a “hoax” or “coup” or whatever is baseless. The intelligence community’s assessment of the Trump/Russia thing was right. Russia did intervene in the 2016 election, and did it for the purpose of making Trump president.

For years, President Trump has derided the assessment by American intelligence officials that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to assist his candidacy, dismissing it without evidence as the work of a “deep state” out to undermine his victory.

But on Tuesday, a long-awaited Senate review led by members of Mr. Trump’s own party effectively undercut those allegations. A three-year review by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously found that the intelligence community assessment, pinning blame on Russia and outlining its goals to undercut American democracy, was fundamentally sound and untainted by politics.

and you also might be interested in …

This week I learned: The word quarantine comes from the Italian word for forty. During the Black Death in the 1300s, thirty days was the accepted standard period to isolate a ship from a plague-infested area. If that had held up, we’d be having trentines. But sometime during the 1400s, another ten days got tacked on for reasons no one remembers.

Nobody really knows what’s going on in North Korea. Maybe there’s some problem with Kim Jong Un’s health, or maybe he’s dead. But maybe he’s fine.

Crisis has a way of hastening along trends that were happening anyway. Wednesday, the NYT raised the possible end of the big department store. The decline has been going on for a while; Sears, K-Mart, and Penney’s had already closed large numbers of stores before the virus hit. For years, the growth in retail has been online, and even the top-line department stores were struggling to remake themselves. Now their time may be up.

The NYT article says:

The entire executive team at Lord & Taylor was let go this month. Nordstrom has canceled orders and put off paying its vendors. The Neiman Marcus Group, the most glittering of the American department store chains, is expected to declare bankruptcy in the coming days, the first major retailer felled during the current crisis.

The whole industry is eating its seed corn.

At a time when retailers should be putting in orders for the all-important holiday shopping season, stores are furloughing tens of thousands of corporate and store employees, hoarding cash and desperately planning how to survive this crisis…. The resort season has been canceled entirely, and fall orders have been put on hold, raising questions about what inventory will be left if and when shops reopen and consumers return to stores.

Department stores are typically the anchors of big malls; you want to look for something in Macy’s, and since you’re there you window-shop at Yankee Candle and get lunch at the Panda Express in the food court — neither of which would have been worth the trip otherwise.

“The nature of the mall is if you lose a big anchor like a Macy’s, you have co-tenancy issues and you have more pressure on the mall traffic, which was already a big issue,” said Oliver Chen, an analyst at Cowen. Co-tenancy clauses typically allow other tenants to demand rent reductions if certain key chains depart. Mr. Chen said that could accelerate the ongoing divide between top-tier malls and the second- or third-choice malls in certain areas.

Shares in the biggest mall-owner, Simon, have fallen from a high of $180 to $53. The shares currently yield 15%, a number indicating that the market believes a large dividend cut is coming.

In related news, private equity firm Sycamore Partners is trying to wriggle out of its poorly timed acquisition of Victoria’s Secret.

and let’s close with something inspiring

Voices Rock Canada offers a choir of women physicians singing “Rise Again“.