Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Lost Villages

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on December 7.

I spent all weekend triple checking that there is *not* a lost, enchanted village in Pennsylvania with 90,000 Trump voters that we forgot to count.

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman

This week’s featured post is “Can I Get Over Donald Trump?

This week everybody was still talking about the loser of the presidential election

Today we’ll get a reading on how long it’s going to take to quell the Trump coup. Michigan’s four member election board meets today to certify the election results saying that Biden won. One of the two Republican members says he’ll vote against certification until an audit is done, and if the other Republican agrees, the courts will have to step in.

The problem with [the board member’s] request, which mirrors that of the RNC and the Michigan Republican Party in their recent letter to the board, is an audit or investigation into election results cannot be done until election results are certified. On top of that, asking for an audit is outside the purview of the board, whose only role is to canvass and certify election results.

So we’re waiting to find out if a second board member will use authority the board doesn’t have to attempt to overturn an election Biden won by 154,000 votes, without evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

Trump’s lawsuits continue to get thrown out of court. This ruling by a federal court in Pennsylvania is about as amusing as judicial rulings ever get. It reads like the comments that a very patient professor writes on a first-year law student’s essay that he has given a D.

Again and again, the judge goes back to basic legal definitions (what is “standing”, for example), and explains why the Trump complaint falls apart. There is no need to have a hearing on evidence, because the Trump campaign has not stated a case that evidence could prove.

Even Chris Christie is calling Trump’s legal team “a national embarrassment”. Trump ought to be ashamed of stuff like this, but of course he never is.

The Republican solidarity behind Trump’s coup attempt is starting to erode. But the extent to which it still holds together is frightening. We used to have two parties that both supported American democracy. Now we just have one.

How much longer do we have to keep this up?

Jimmy Fallon’s people put together a Trump concession speech.

Chris Hayes points to the longer game Trump might be playing:

Apropos of nothing, the Confederacy’s refusal to actually accept defeat and instead embrace a Lost Cause narrative of betrayal was a key aspect of its successful efforts to wrench back one-party totalitarian control of the South, which it did both through violence and propaganda.

and the virus

Covid-19 continues to spread out of control, with new records being set just about every day. Two weeks ago I wrote:

It’s a reasonable guess that by next month we’ll be hitting 2,000 deaths in a day.

That happened Thursday. This week we’ll probably see our first 200,000-new-case day.

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal and Whet Moser look at the relatively inflexible relationship between cases and deaths: At first, improvements in treatment lowered the percentage of infected people who died, but that progress has just about stopped.

The U.S. health-care system has not reduced the deadliness of the coronavirus since July, according to a new estimate by a prominent COVID-19 researcher, which accounts for the lags in public reporting of cases and deaths. Instead, the virus has, with ruthless regularity, killed at least 1.5 percent of all Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past four months. …

Because the case-fatality rate has stayed fixed for so long and there are now so many reported cases, predicting the virus’s death toll in the near term has become a matter of brutal arithmetic: 150,000 cases a day, times 1.5 percent, will lead to 2,250 daily deaths. In the spring, the seven-day average of daily deaths rose to its highest point ever on April 21, when it reached 2,116 deaths. With cases rising as fast as they are, the U.S. could cross the threshold of 2,000 daily deaths within a month. Without a miraculous improvement in care, the United States is about to face the darkest period of the pandemic so far.

The researcher estimates the lag between case numbers and death numbers to be about 22 days. So even if cases leveled off today, we can expect deaths to continue going up for at least the next 22 days.

Beating this surge is not rocket science, it’s a question of political will. CNN reports:

The [United States] is now in the same situation that France, Belgium and the Czech Republic were last month, when rapidly rising infections put their health care systems within weeks of failure. But these countries have managed to avert, for now, the worst-case scenario, in which people die because hospitals are full and they can’t access the care they need to survive. They slowed down the epidemics by imposing lockdowns and strict mask mandates. Despite the clear evidence from Europe, the White House is still opposing new restrictions.

It’s easy to believe that Covid can be conquered by authoritarian governments like China. But Stephanie Nolen reports from the not-so-distant, not-so-exotic city of Halifax.

This morning, my children went to school — school, in an old brick building, where they lined up to go in the scuffed front doors. I went to work out at the gym, the real gym, where I huffed and puffed in a sweaty group class. And a few days ago, my partner and I hosted a dinner party, gathering eight friends around the dining room table for a boisterous night that went too late. Remember those?

Where I’m living, we gather without fear. Life is unfolding much as it did a year ago. This magical, virus-free world is just one long day’s drive away from the Empire State Building — in a parallel dimension called Nova Scotia.

How did they manage that?

Our coronavirus lockdown began swiftly in March and was all-encompassing. The provincial borders were slammed shut. In Nova Scotia, even public hiking trails were closed, a big deal for a population used to the freedom to head into the wilderness at will. …

Public health officials, not politicians, set the policy here about what opens. And people (mostly) follow the rules on closures and gatherings and masks. “The message has been that we need to do it to keep each other safe,” [Nova Scotia’s public health chief Robert Strang] told me. “I think there’s something about our culture, our collective ethic, if you will, that means people accept that.”

Collective ethic? Keeping each other safe? It’s that damn socialism!

It’s also maintaining a long-term view: By accepting some harsh restrictions early, the Nova Scotians achieved far more freedom than we have now.

From the other side of the socialist/capitalist divide, Sarah Jones writes about her grandfather’s Covid death.

Sick, in and out of hospitals, and possessed of limited means, my grandfather belonged to a sacrificial category of person in America. This category has always existed, but the pandemic has exposed it and expanded its borders. It has become so difficult to pretend that American free-market capitalism is anything but brutal that conservatives have largely given up trying. … Some conservatives, including Trump, may consider this an acceptable sacrifice to make on behalf of the economy. But I don’t believe anyone benefits from mass death and suffering, or that the elderly and infirm should be made to feel like detritus while they are still alive, as my grandfather was.

and Thanksgiving

This has gotten truly crazy. I’m used to conservatives refusing to take the virus seriously and responding like spoiled children to any suggestion that they shouldn’t do whatever they want. But now the idea is out there that liberals are against Thanksgiving, and you have to “save” Thanksgiving by having as big an indoor, maskless get-together as you can manage.

The “liberals” in question are mainly at the CDC, which is urging Americans to stay home for the holiday.

The White House, meanwhile, is referring to such Thanksgiving advice as “Orwellian”. Scott Atlas, the unqualified doctor who somehow has gotten control of the Coronavirus Task Force,

mocked the idea that older relatives would be put at risk over the holiday weekend, although there is ample medical evidence that seniors are much more likely to become ill if they are exposed to the virus and to die if they become sick.

“This kind of isolation is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly, who are now being told, ‘Don’t see your family at Thanksgiving,’” Dr. Atlas said. “For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not.”

Of course, if we do all have big Thanksgiving get-togethers, it will be the final Thanksgiving for a lot more people.

The White House itself announced plans for large in-person Christmas and Hanukkah events.

But the most over-the-top message came from conservative podcaster Charlie Kirk:

The Left has always hated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving can be interpreted as a religious holiday, if you believe in giving thanks to a Creator. But they hate Thanksgiving because they believe there is nothing you should be thankful for in America. This is an awful place. It is cancerous, rotten to the core. Tear it all down. Burn it from within. And why would you be thankful?

To be fair, there is a discussion among people with a sense of history and justice — does that necessarily make them liberals? — about whether the fundamental dishonesty of the “First Thanksgiving” myth (in view of the ensuing Native American genocide) poisons the whole holiday. But I’ve never heard anybody of any political persuasion find fault with the idea of encouraging gratitude. Whether you believe in a Creator or not, it seems healthy to take a day to reflect on the good things in our lives and acknowledge that we didn’t make all of them ourselves.

In fact, the person who I think would be most likely to object to such a holiday is the Great Orange Menace: Why should a Creator get any of the credit for the marvelous life he has built for himself?

which got me thinking about Covid Carols

The thought of Thanksgiving at home without visitors, followed by Christmas at home without visitors, filled me with a resentment that had to be let out somehow. I have Facebook friends who apparently feel the same way, so we’ve been collaborating on Covid Carols. The group is getting real close to a presentable version of “The 12 Days of Covid”.

Sadly, caroling in the ICU will not be possible this year. Maybe we can do one of those Zoom-choir things.

Having worked on a carol, I had to google the idea. It turns out we’re not the first the think of it. And while the Center for Congregational Song’s completed carols are more polished than the ones we’re developing, there’s something very satisfying about writing your own, especially in long-distance collaboration. The impropriety of it is a giant fuck-you to the whole situation.

So anyway, I happened to notice that the traditional carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” traces the spread of information from one person the next. That makes it an ideal vehicle for a Covid carol. Like this:

Have You Caught What I’ve Caught?

Said the tourist to the Uber man:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
In a distant land, Uber man.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
A wheeze, a sneeze,
symptoms of disease,
And I don’t know quite what it is.
I still don’t know quite what it is.”

Said the Uber man to the CEO:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
I’ve begun to sweat, CEO.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
I ache, I bake,
no matter what I take.
And I really should head for home.
Yes, I really should be at home.”

Said the CEO to a vendor’s rep:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
Sniff this coffee for me, vendor’s rep.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
A taste, a smell,
I really cannot tell.
It is all just the same to me.
The whole world smells the same to me.”

Said the vendor’s rep to his mother dear:
“You can’t catch what I’ve caught.
(Cannot catch what I’ve caught.)
I feel just fine, mother dear.
Worry not what I’ve caught.
A test, a test,
says I’m not my best.
But I know that it’s a mistake.
I am sure it’s all a mistake.”

Rasped the old woman in the ICU:
“Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.
(Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.)
Cinch your masks tighter, wear your gloves.
Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.
You serve, you give,
so I want you to live.
And I pray this all ends with me.
Let us pray this all ends with me.

and you also might be interested in …

This week’s discovery: the cartoons of @twisteddoodles.

Josh Marshall describes this as “a harmonic convergence of half the bad things in our society”.

Va. AG Mark Herring announces he will fight a lawsuit seeking an exemption to covid-19 restrictions so an indoor gun show with as many as 25,000 attendees can go forward at Dulles Expo Center this weekend. Group claims restrictions violate right to bear arms in Va.

The Atlantic examines the waning of America’s global influence and prestige, which Biden will have a hard time reversing.

During a week that Trump spent tweeting election conspiracy theories, 15 Asia-Pacific countries signed on to a regional trade deal spearheaded by China. Not so very long ago, the Obama administration proposed the creation of a U.S.-led transpacific trade partnership that would have bound the region to a different vision. When Trump trashed that agreement, the door was left open for Beijing.

My annual dose of humility: The NYT’s 100 notable books of the year. Given how little hanging out at bookstores I got to do this year, my totals are below even my usual anemic standards. I’ve read only one of the books, the completion of Hillary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. I’m in the middle of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, and I’ll almost certainly read Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and Rick Perlstein’s Reaganland eventually.

As for the rest, well, I’m imagining singing “96 Notable Books on the Shelf” to the tune of “99 Bottles of Beer”.

and let’s close with something racy

Sofa Heroes

Our sofa was our front and our patience was our weapon. … This is how we became heroes, back then, during that coronavirus winter of 2020.

– translated from a German Covid ad

This week’s featured post is “The Electoral College, the Trump Coup Attempt, the Georgia Run-offs, and Other Post-Election Reflections“.

This week everybody was still reacting the election

I combined all my election reflections into the featured post. It’s not the well-organized essay I usually intend to write, but is more like a weekly summary devoted to a single topic.

Now that Trump will be leaving office, be sure to plan your virtual visit to the Donald J. Trump Library. Visit the Covid Memorial. Examine the Wall of Criminality (the only wall Mexico paid for).

Somebody put an enormous amount of work into this project, and it shows.

and talking about the exploding virus

Way back in the spring, doctors warned us that there could be another coronavirus wave in the fall. Well, here it is. Three weeks ago we were horrified that daily new-case numbers were reaching the previous records of around 75,000. Friday, we had more than double that number: 177,246. The trend line is still racing upwards, with no signs of a peak.

Hospitalizations are also at record levels. Hospitalizations tend to lag a week or so behind new cases, and they don’t depend on the number of tests, which is the usual denialist excuse for why new-case numbers are surging. in general, you get hospitalized because at-home care can’t stabilize your fever and/or blood-oxygen levels. It’s a serious thing, far from the “sniffles” Trump talks about.

Deaths, which lag about a week behind hospitalizations, are rising more slowly. The current daily average is around 1,200. (That’s like four or five major airline crashes every day.) The last two weeks’ surge in the new-case numbers wouldn’t have shown up in death totals yet. So we’re probably on our way to 2,000 deaths per day.

And Thanksgiving is coming. Large numbers of people will travel, spend hours indoors with friends and relatives, and then travel again. If you wanted to spread the virus, you could hardly design something better. By the time we get into the Christmas season, we might be seeing 3 or 4 thousand deaths every day.

Don’t do it.

Health officials are warning people to be careful this Thanksgiving, and for the most part that just means DON’T. Don’t do whatever it is you usually do.

The archetypal Thanksgiving — smiling faces packed tightly around a table in a warm and cozy dining room, with the family patriarch and matriarch at the center of attention and grandchildren arriving from every corner of the country — is exactly what you shouldn’t do if you want everybody to survive until next Thanksgiving.

The responsible thing is to cancel your plans. My wife and I just told the friends we have spent Christmas with for decades that we can’t make the 1,500-mile drive this year. It was hard and depressing, but it was necessary.

and credit/blame for the election outcome

Democratic centrists and progressives are arguing about how to split the credit and/or blame for the election results. This seems to me to be a particularly unproductive way to spend our time.

Here’s what I observed myself: Being a Michigan State alum, I spent many hours of the election’s final weeks watching Big 10 football on the conference’s BTN network. In spite of BTN having national reach, the ads were often aimed at local races in the states whose teams were playing. So I saw a lot of the GOP’s closing arguments in states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Those ads did indeed target the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and tried to associate moderate Democratic candidates like Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield and Michigan’s Gary Peters with progressive leaders like AOC and progressive policies like defunding the police and Medicare for All. (I don’t remember what they called MfA; probably a more pejorative name.) Clearly, Republicans believed that it was good for them (and not for Greenfield or Peters) if voters associated all Democrats with AOC and the progressive agenda.

So I get where moderates like Conor Lamb are coming from when they say that the outspokenness of progressives made their races harder.

And yet …

Imagine for a moment that AOC, Bernie Sanders, and the Squad never existed. No one ever said “Defund the Police” or “Ban Fracking” or proposed any trillion-dollar programs. Do I believe that in such a world, Republican attack ads would have nothing to say? They wouldn’t dream up some other policies they believed to be unpopular and claim Greenfield and Peters and Lamb supported them? They wouldn’t find some other public figure to demonize and hang around moderate Democrats’ necks in purple districts? (The ads I saw, in fact, did demonize Nancy Pelosi. I think she’s more progressive than many on the left give her credit for, but she’s no AOC.)

Lamb et al seem to be assuming that if other Democrats only behaved “better”, Republicans would have no way to distort their views. I doubt that.

and the Biden administration

Politico makes its best guesses about a Biden cabinet. It’s a distinguished cast, and lacks any of the I-play-an-expert-on-TV types Trump was fond of.

The question is whether Mitch McConnell’s Senate (assuming Republicans win at least one of the Georgia run-offs) will let Biden have a cabinet. If I were Biden, I’d be tempted to stretch the Overton window by making one or two nominations Republicans will absolutely hate — say, Hillary Clinton as attorney general or Al Gore as head of the EPA. McConnell could lead a charge against them and do a victory dance when their nominations didn’t reach the floor, but Biden’s other nominees would seem tame by comparison and might slide through.

The NYT draws attention to a looming problem: Just as career government officials in the State Department, Justice, the EPA, and several other agencies — the so-called “Deep State” — stood against Trump and sometimes frustrated his initiatives, Joe Biden may face resistance from Homeland Security.

To the extent that it’s more than just a conspiracy theory, the Deep State consists of career government workers who are more loyal to the mission of their agency (as they understand it) than to their ultimate boss in the White House. So, no matter what orders they get, generals at the Pentagon will drag their feet if they believe those orders endanger national security, public health officials like Dr. Fauci will resist policies that promote disease, NOAA won’t lie about the path of a hurricane, and so on.

Well, the Trump Homeland Security Department has accumulated people who believe the southern border is out of control. Many are hostile to asylum-seekers, and for four years their cruelty has been given free rein. That genie is going to be hard to get back into its bottle.

and “religious liberty”

Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gave a virtual address to a Federalist Society meeting. Most of the media coverage of the speech centered on his statements about the Covid lockdowns, like: “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” I think people who lived through rationing, blackouts, and the Japanese internment during World War II might debate that. So might Black people who remember Jim Crow and sundown towns. Or Native Americans who had their children taken away to Indian Residential Schools. But historical myopia and white self-centeredness are not what I want to talk about.

Alito also used Covid restrictions as examples of our problematic emergency laws, and yet somehow managed to ignore the most egregious recent abuse of emergency law: Trump’s fake southern-border emergency that allowed him to seize money to build his wall. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

No, Alito spent a big chunk of his speech talking about an entirely phony issue: the threat to “religious liberty” in America. This is something I wrote about in 2013: “‘Religious Freedom’ means Christian Passive-Agressive Domination“.

I expect to come back to this issue sometime soon, but let me just say this: All of the cases he mentions — Little Sisters of the Poor, Ralph’s Pharmacy, Masterpiece Cakeshop — are examples of Christian passive aggression; there was no threat to actual religious liberty.

Passive aggression is when someone exaggerates a weakness or sensitivity in order to manipulate others and gain power over their choices and actions. Again and again in recent years, conservative Christians have constructed a greatly exaggerated notion of purity, and have used it to insist on an ever-greater distance between themselves and anyone who is doing something they don’t like. And the inconvenience this exaggerated purity causes should fall not on the Christian, but on whoever they object to.

Take Masterpiece Cakeshop, for example. There is no tradition in America in which a wedding cake has the slightest religious significance. A baker who refuses to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple is not in any way practicing his Christian religion. He is just acting out his bigotry. Alito complains:

For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry.

But in what way is that opinion wrong? Isn’t “religious liberty” the primary excuse for bigotry today?

and you also might be interested in …

Artist Robin French offers this response to the question: “What have you achieved in 2020?”

Michelle Goldberg is less than optimistic about Trump’s post-presidency prospects, and outlines the legal troubles he might face.

This week I discovered Blaire Erskine, who has done a series of hilarious wife-of-somebody-famous videos. In this one, she is the wife of Corey Lewandowski, reacting to him getting a Covid infection. A few months ago, she was the daughter of Jerry Falwell Jr., reacting to her parents’ sex scandal.

If you repost one, make sure to emphasize that she isn’t really who she’s claiming to be, because the Lewandowski one is so funny your friends will want to believe it’s genuine.

and let’s close with a message from the future

An elderly German man recalls how in his younger days, he became one of the heroes of 2020 by staying home and doing nothing.

Civic Faith

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

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

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

– Ezra Klein,
The Fight is for Democracy

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

This week everybody was talking about the election

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

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

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

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

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

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

meanwhile the Trump corruption stories keep coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and disenfranchising Americans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something astounding

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

Full Responsibility

I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault.

– Donald Trump, during this week’s debate

This week’s featured post is “I Want To Believe“.

This week everybody was talking about the election

The featured post discusses my hopes and fears for Election Night.

There was a debate Thursday (transcript), which I once again was unable to make myself watch. The upshot seems to be that not much changed: Polls say Biden did better, but by a margin not much bigger than he gets in polls about how people will vote. Mostly, people liked the performance of the candidate they’re voting for anyway.

I did not see this coming: The Manchester Union Leader endorsed Biden. Maybe you have to have lived in New Hampshire to know what this means, but for decades the Union Leader WAS conservatism. It’s still a conservative paper, but I think it recognizes that its worldview has no place in a world where conservatism means Trump.

Our policy disagreements with Joe Biden are significant. Despite our endorsement of his candidacy, we expect to spend a significant portion of the next four years disagreeing with the Biden administration on our editorial pages.

But the Union Leader has bigger fish to fry than the Green New Deal.

President Trump is not always 100 percent wrong, but he is 100 percent wrong for America.

They fault him for:

  • His pre-pandemic deficit spending, which added 3 trillion to the debt. “The layman would expect that the best economy in history would be a time to get the fiscal house in order, pay down debt and prepare for a rainy day (or perhaps a worldwide pandemic).”
  • His failure to deal with Covid-19. “Mr. Trump rightly points out that the COVID-19 crisis isn’t his fault, but a true leader must own any situation that happens on their watch. We may be turning a corner with this virus, but the corner we turned is down a dark alley of record infections and deaths.”
  • He can only cause division at a time when the country needs unity. “America faces many challenges and needs a president to build this country up. This appears to be outside of Mr. Trump’s skill set. Building this country up sits squarely within the skill set of Joseph Biden.”

and the virus

The daily new-case numbers hit a new high Friday. The exact numbers vary depending on things like when you change over to a new day, but The Washington Post claimed 82,920 cases Friday, while The New York Times recorded 85,085. In both systems, Thursday had just missed setting the record established in July, and Saturday’s total was either just above (WaPo) or just below (NYT) Friday’s.

Here’s what the WaPo graph currently looks like:

It’s worth noting that the first hump is probably understated, because tests were much harder to get in March/April. The weekly death totals have never again reached the April levels of around 15K. The second wave peaked in August at around 8K. Deaths tend to lag cases by about a month, and are now running a little over 6K per week. (That’s the tiny kernel of truth behind Rudy Giuliani’s outrageous statement that “People don’t die of this disease anymore.” Ignoring six thousand corpses is easier than ignoring 15 thousand corpses.)

But in addition to that time lag, it does look like fewer cases are leading to death now, as treatments gradually improve. There is still no cure, and the strategy is still to keep people alive until their own immune systems can win the battle, but doctors are getting better at it.

Meanwhile, there’s another White House outbreak, this time among Mike Pence’s staff.

and the new justice

Amy Coney Barrett will be voted on by the Senate tonight. Republicans have the votes to confirm her, and President Trump expects to have a ceremony swearing her in almost immediately.

Within days, she may start voting on cases that influence the election: Pennsylvania Republicans are still trying to get the state not to count mail-in votes that are postmarked by Election Day, but arrive later.

The Court will start hearing arguments about invalidating ObamaCare on November 10.

Senator Angus King of Maine and Heather Cox Richardson combine on an explanation of why Barrett’s “originalism” philosophy doesn’t make sense.

[T]his idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”

In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.

So is the Air Force unconstitutional, even though it clearly fails both prongs of the “originalist” test?

I gave another example — the impossibility of applying any originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment — last year.

They go on to explain what’s really going on with this nonsensical theory, which of course will never be applied to the Air Force or corporate free speech or any other non-original notion that serves the purposes of conservatives.

Originalism is an intellectual cloak drummed up (somewhat recently) to dignify a profoundly retrogressive view of the Constitution as a straitjacket on the ability of the federal government to act on behalf of the public. Its real purpose is to justify a return to the legal environment of the early 1930s, when the Court routinely struck down essential elements of the New Deal. Business regulation, Social Security, and Medicare? Not so fast. The Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, a woman’s right to choose? Forget it.

but the Court is just one of the things that will need to be fixed

Assume for a moment that the polls are right and Biden wins the presidency. (Then go back to whatever level of uncertainty causes you to put the most effort into influencing the outcome.) American democracy will have dodged a bullet, narrowly avoiding the fate of failed or failing democracies like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and Poland.

But in some ways we’ll be like a middle-aged heart-attack survivor: There’s no reason we can’t go on to have a robust life, but we’ll also have to make changes if we don’t want the same thing to happen again. Trump has pointed out just how fragile our system is, and how much it has depended on all the players operating with a certain amount of good faith and good will.

For example: We have emergency laws so that the country can respond to crises that play out too quickly for Congress to act. We all took for granted that no president would declare a phony emergency just to circumvent the will of Congress, as Trump did to fund his border wall.

And the institutional structure of our government — what Trump derides as “the Deep State” — has resisted many of his worst impulses. But like a levee holding back a flooding river, it eroded, sometimes very badly. The Justice Department may have withstood pressure to arrest Trump’s political opponents, but it also distorted the findings of the Mueller Report and corruptly favored the President’s criminal friends. The CDC continues to battle Covid-19, but has lost the faith not just of the public, but of some states as well. The Director of National Intelligence has often sounded like someone who works for the Trump campaign, not the United States government.

The recent executive order extending the President’s power over government professionals (explained below) will only make this worse.

Electing Biden may stop the flood, but we will also need to repair the levees — and not just to their previous strength. This is one important area where we need to “build back better”. The next would-be autocrat might be cleverer and less buffoonish than Trump. We need a democracy that can survive that challenge too.

things like the media

One levee that badly needs repair is the press. For that issue, I recommend Vox’ recent interview with Jay Rosen. Rosen and interviewer Sean Illing discuss a propaganda tactic the Russians call the “firehose of falsehood” and Steve Bannon described as “flooding the zone with shit”: You say so many false and outrageous things that the media’s attempt to fact-check you drives the news cycle. Opposing views are pushed out of the conversation, and the argument becomes You vs. the Media.

The first Trump/Biden debate is a perfect example: No one remembers anything Biden tried to say. The whole post-debate conversation was about Trump’s outrageousness and the moderator’s inability to control him.

Trump is the first major politician to bring this tactic to the US.

[Previous presidents] would change the [fact-checked] claim to make it kind-of sort-of factual, or they would take it out of the stump speech, because they didn’t want to suffer the penalty of being described as untruthful. And this was true across parties.

Illing asks how a news outlet like The New York Times can deal with this tactic without being “seen as inherently biased by a lot of people”, and Rosen acknowledges this is impossible.

What’s actually achievable, however, is a newsroom that serves everyone in the country — Democrats and Republican — who shares with Times journalists a certain baseline reality and evidentiary standard. That’s all you can get. … If the perception of critics can shape rule-making in his newsroom, then [NYT editor Dean] Baquet has surrendered power to enemies of the Times, who will always perceive bias because it is basic to their interests to do so.

Rosen wants election coverage to become voter-centered rather than candidate-centered: What’s important isn’t the campaigns’ strategies and messages, it’s “the voters struggling to get their concerns addressed by the system”.

In the citizens agenda model, you “win” when you gain an accurate sense of what people want the campaign to be about, and when you successfully pressure the candidates to address those things people told you they want the campaign to be about.

He also wants the media to confront openly the difference between the parties, which are no longer mirror-images of each other, if they ever were.

The Republican Party has become a counter-majoritarian party. It can only win elections by making it harder to vote, and by making it harder to understand what the party is all about. The conflict with honest journalism is structural, not just a matter of broken practices or bad actors. And I believe the people who report on politics in the United States are going to have to confront that reality, whether Trump wins or loses.

If our journalists continue in the assumption that we have a normal system where there is a contest for power between roughly similar parties with different philosophies, then every day of operation they will be distorting the picture more and more.

Another example of how the political game has changed: The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum ‘s article “You’re Not Supposed to Understand the Rumors About Biden“.

There is apparently a new cache of “Hunter Biden emails”, with yet another dodgy story about where they came from and what they supposedly prove.

This is a different cache, one that is even more tangential to the U.S. presidential campaign and even harder to understand. In order to even make sense of the messages’ content, the reader must learn the backstories of a whole new cast of characters, not just Cooney but two other convicted fraudsters named Devon Archer and Jason Galanis; the wife of the former mayor of Moscow, Yelena Baturina; and Chris Heinz, John Kerry’s stepson, who broke away from the group; as well as their relationships, their jokes (they refer to Baturina as the “USSR woman’s shot put champion”), and the rules of the ugly world they inhabit. In order to link them to Joe Biden, you have to turn somersaults, do triple flips, and squint very hard.

… In releasing the 26,000 emails, Tyrmand and his collaborator, the Breitbart News contributor Peter Schweizer, are not bringing forth any evidence of actual lawbreaking, or an actual security threat, by either Hunter or Joe Biden. They are instead creating a miasma, an atmosphere, a foggy world in which misdeeds might have taken place, and in which corruption might have happened. They are also providing the raw material from which more elaborate stories can be constructed. The otherwise incomprehensible reference in last night’s debate to “the mayor of Moscow’s wife,” from whom Joe Biden somehow got rich, was an excellent example of how this works. A name surfaces in a large collection of data; it is detached from its context; it is then used to make an insinuation or accusation that cannot be proved; it is then forgotten, unless it gains some traction, in which case it is repeated again.

If this all sounds vaguely like a replay of the 2016 attacks on Hillary Clinton, that’s because it is.

Those messages contained no actual scandals either—only the miasma of scandal. And that was all that mattered. But her emails was an effective phrase precisely because it was so amorphous. It was an allusion to a whole world of unnamed, unknown, and, as it turned out, fictional horrors.

I got a small chance to be part of the solution this week. Lately I’ve been working as a volunteer on The Bedford Citizen, the local online newspaper of my small Boston suburb. This part of Massachusetts is heavily Democratic, to the point that the Republicans don’t field candidates for all the important offices. This year, both our state representative and our state senator are running unopposed.

One complaint I share with Jay Rosen is that the press covers politics as if it were a horse race, with all its attention directed to the back-and-forth of the campaigns, virtually ignoring the race’s impact on how the community will be governed.

Well, that kind of coverage isn’t possible for our local legislative races, because there is no horse race to cover. What to do? Here’s how I answered that question. My article is still candidate-centered, but is more about governing than politicking.

and the environment

The town of Greensburg, Kansas was all but wiped out by a tornado in 2007. Its rebuilding plan “put the green in Greensburg”, and now the town has energy-conserving buildings and a wind farm that produces more electricity than the town uses. A farmer and local businessman comments: “People assume you’re a community of hippies or some nonsense. No, it’s the responsible way to build now.”

Could the new all-electric Hummer be good for the environment? Well, no, not really. It’s a 3-ton behemoth that takes gobs of energy to manufacture and operate, no matter where that energy comes from. But Grist does its best to see the bright side.

All that said, the Hummer EV may do something kind of useful: make all-electric driving appeal to people who aren’t that into the environment. … Even if early Hummer EV owners are only those who can afford to shell out $112,000 on a massive “supertruck,” the purchase of these metal monstrosities could increase the push to install chargers, and provoke even more EV ownership down the line in decidedly non-hipster, non-environmentalist markets. … [B]uying a Hummer might be some people’s first step into an eco-friendly lifestyle. Cutting carbon emissions is, after all, kind of a choose-your-own-adventure situation. Decide to have one fewer child to fight climate change? Good on you. Avoiding all plastic to save the ocean? Go for it! Buying an electric Hummer instead of a similarly giant gas-guzzling SUV? Uh, sure.

Tropical storm Zeta makes it official: 2020 ties 2005’s record for named storms. And hurricane season has another month to run.

Grist sums up the Trump administration’s climate-change record in an eight-minute video.

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Wednesday President Trump issued an executive order that could finally bring the “Deep State” to heel. The order is fairly technical and hard to make interesting to the general public, but in essence it makes vast numbers of civil servants fireable by the President.

Any civil servants in “positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character” would be reclassified into a new Schedule F in order to guarantee that “the President have appropriate management oversight regarding this select cadre of professionals”.

The purpose of establishing the civil service was to avoid the corrupt machine politics of the 19th-century spoils system, where the federal bureaucracy turned over every time there was a new administration. This executive order undermines civil service protections, and creates vast new opportunities for corruption and autocracy.

At stake are the career professionals who have stayed loyal to the missions of their departments rather than the whims of the President — like the scientists at the CDC and FDA who have been trying to maintain the safety standards for vaccines, even though the President wants them to approve one before the election.

Voters in Georgia and Tennessee have been challenged at the polls and told their Black Lives Matter t-shirts violated local laws against “electioneering” at a polling place.

During the primary in September, poll-watchers in Exeter, NH stopped a 60-something woman because her t-shirt was too political for a polling place. So she took it off and voted topless.

and I have a question for you

I used to have a “This Week’s Challenge” feature to encourage comments, but I haven’t done that in a long time. Well, here’s a challenge.

A computer-security researcher in the Netherlands says he hacked Trump’s Twitter account by guessing the password “maga2020!”. He reported the security problem, and if he did any mischief at all, it was subtle. That shows way more discipline than I would have had.

So that’s this week’s challenge: If you had control of Trump’s Twitter, and figured you would probably only get one tweet out before they shut you down, what would it be?

and let’s close with something old and stale

It turns out that nothing lasts forever, not even Twinkies.


When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on October 26.

This week’s featured post is “The Hidden Threat of a Conservative Supreme Court (and what Biden should say about it)“.

This week everybody was talking about the White House coronavirus cluster

The Trump White House is displaying its usual lack of transparency. We still don’t know exactly who’s infected, when Trump’s last negative test was, whether he had been tested before his debate with Biden (as the rules stipulated), or who White House Patient Zero is. The Washington Post tried to summarize what we do know.

There’s also a lot we don’t know about Trump’s current condition. He held his comeback rally on the White House lawn Saturday, speaking from a balcony. (Almost forgotten in the hoopla is that using the White House for rallies used to be taboo. The Marine Band played, which was “pushing the boundaries of U.S. law and the military tradition of political neutrality”. More and more, Trump treats all government resources as his personal property.) He will hold a rally in Florida today.

Is that safe, either for him or for the people around him? We get carefully worded statements from his doctor that don’t really answer the question.

and right-wing terrorism in Michigan

Thursday, 13 right-wing domestic terrorists were charged with participating in a plot to kidnap (and possibly kill) Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Confidential informants taped conversations about storming the Capitol, placing Whitmer on trial for treason, and taking her from her vacation home. And they did more than just talk.

The conspirators conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home on two occasions in late August and September, the complaint said. Croft and Fox discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the vacation home area, according to the FBI.

President Trump stands back from groups like this when they get caught, but he has also been encouraging them. When armed protesters (including some of the conspirators) surrounded and entered the Michigan state capitol in April, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN“, and urged Whitmer to “make a deal” with them because they are “very good people”. (It’s worth noting that Whitmer did not give in to Trump’s pressure to reopen prematurely, but the Republican governors of Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida did, with disastrous results. Whitmer was right and Trump wrong.)

In his debate with Joe Biden, Trump addressed another right-wing hate group, the Proud Boys, telling them to “stand by” because “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left”.

Whitmer has refused to let Trump off the hook for this:

When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.

Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow (who sits next to the senator who took the picture above) amplified that message:

It’s clear all 13 of these men — and probably many more like them — were and still are listening for signals like these, and interpret them as permission and direction. When Republican leaders call the governor a “tyrant,” we see that language take hold among protesters, who then take to carrying signs saying, “Tyrants Get the Rope.” (In Michigan, protestors even brought a naked brunette doll hanging by a noose to a rally.)

Republicans didn’t create these 13 angry men, but they have absolutely encouraged them — like blowing on a tinder to start a campfire.

I think it’s time to stop dignifying Republican conspiracy theories about Antifa, or taking seriously their complaints about left-wing violence. It’s time for the media to stop their both-sides framing. Men plotting to kidnap political leaders, or ramming their cars into protesters, or gunning down protesters, or making heroes out of teen-agers who gun down protesters, or slaughtering Hispanics in a Walmart — that stuff only happens on the right. And no number of left-wing window-breakers or water bottles thrown at police can even it out.

What’s more, when there is some violent incident on the left, no one praises it. You don’t hear local officials or presidents of the United States justifying it. That stuff only happens on the right.

and Trump’s collapsing support

Two weeks ago, 538’s polling average had Biden leading Trump by 6.9%: 50.1%-43.2%. Now it’s up to 10.6%: 52.4%-41.8%. Then, the tipping point state was Pennsylvania, where Biden led by 5.2%. Now it’s Wisconsin, where Biden is up by 7.1%.

What I would call the coup de grâce state, the one that could tell us on election night that Biden has won, is Florida, where 538 has Biden ahead by 4.5%. Two weeks ago, Biden’s lead was only 1.7%.

Worse for Trump, nobody is coming to save him. There will be no just-in-time-for-the-election vaccine. The Durham investigation is not going to indict Biden, or even produce a report in the next three weeks.

Another bad sign for Trump is that Republican senators are slowly backing away from him. They’re still complicit in his crimes, but they don’t want to stand next to him any more.

Mitch McConnell is saying that literally, claiming that he hasn’t been to the White House in two months, because he “personally didn’t feel that they were approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate for the Senate.” And Joni Ernst says, “I’m running my own race.

and the off-again on-again stimulus deal

Right now it looks like it’s off, largely because McConnell shows no interest. I think McConnell is already looking past the Trump administration, and thinking about how he can sabotage the Biden economy.

and the 25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment cleaned up a bunch of possible problem areas related to presidential succession, including what happens when the President is incapacitated. Section 3 covers when the President knows he is (or is about to be) incapacitated: He sends a note to both houses of Congress telling them that the Vice President is taking over for a while. Ronald Reagan did it once and George W. Bush twice before going under general anesthetic for surgery.

Section 4 covers presidents who don’t know they’re incapacitated, either because they’re unexpectedly unconscious, or because they’re off their rockers.

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

That’s the situation we have appeared to be in this week. The steroid treatment Trump is receiving may have side effects:

While this commonly used drug is generally safe, there are a range of known side effects. “By far, the most common is hyperglycemia, so that’s where your blood sugars will shoot up,” [Dr. Celine] Gounder [of the New York University School of Medicine] said.

Also quite common, especially among older patients are a range of psychiatric side effects, she added. “Anything from feeling like you’re on top of the world … your arthritic aches and pains of age just melt away, you have lots of energy,” she said. “There may be some grandiosity.” The drug can also cause agitation, insomnia and even, psychosis, Gounder said.

It should be obvious that no one taking this drug should wield the powers of the presidency. And since he came back to the White House, Trump has been even more unstable than usual.

So Nancy Pelosi has started the 25th-Amendment conversation, with a bill that establishes “such other body as Congress may by law provide” to assess the President’s fitness for office. But I disagree with one part of that article’s interpretation:

The commission, if called upon through House and Senate approval of a concurrent resolution, would “carry out a medical examination of the president to determine whether the president is mentally or physically unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office,” according to the bill text. The president could refuse the examination, but the commission would be authorized to factor that into their decision.

If the commission determines the president is unfit to perform his executive duties, the vice president would take over.

As I read the “or” in the 25th Amendment, the commission replaces the cabinet’s role the process, but not the Vice President’s. If the VP stands by the President, I don’t think the President can be removed.

and the fly on Mike Pence

I didn’t last long watching the vice presidential debate [transcript]. The first substantive exchange was about the administration’s handling of the Covid pandemic, which Pence absurdly claimed “saved hundreds of thousands of American lives”. Harris then made the obvious response:

Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly, it hasn’t worked. When you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country …

And Pence then spun her attack on his administration as an attack on the American people, because Trump is the People, apparently.

when you say what the American people have done over these last eight months, hasn’t worked, that’s a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made

I turned it off right there. I’ve given this administration plenty of opportunities to explain their point of view, and all they do is bullshit me. I’m done listening.

So I missed the news event of the night: the fly who spent two minutes on Pence’s head without him noticing.

For what it’s worth, 60% in a CNN poll said Harris performed better.

but don’t lose sight of Trump’s taxes

The NYT continues its series, looking at how Trump properties became a vehicle for corruption.

Mr. Trump did not merely fail to end Washington’s insider culture of lobbying and favor-seeking. He reinvented it, turning his own hotels and resorts into the Beltway’s new back rooms, where public and private business mix and special interests reign. …

Federal tax-return data for Mr. Trump and his business empire, which was disclosed by The New York Times last month, showed that even as he leveraged his image as a successful businessman to win the presidency, large swaths of his real estate holdings were under financial stress, racking up losses over the preceding decades.

But once Mr. Trump was in the White House, his family business discovered a lucrative new revenue stream: people who wanted something from the president. An investigation by The Times found over 200 companies, special-interest groups and foreign governments that patronized Mr. Trump’s properties while reaping benefits from him and his administration.

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The featured post includes yet another of my rants against minority rule. Somewhat coincidentally, though, this week two Republican senators openly expressed doubt or discontent with democracy.

In an odd series of tweets, Mike Lee of Utah said “We’re not a democracy” and then proceeded to explain why it’s better that way.

democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity are. … We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that

Vox’ Zack Beauchamp looks at the vague but ubiquitous conservative talking point that “We’re a republic, not a democracy.” It’s true that the Founders worried about the tyranny of the majority, but modern Republicans are using this rhetoric to justify rule by the minority, which is surely worse.

modern conservatism has long had a built-in intellectual justification for ruling without popular support. … [T]he tradition Lee is operating out of … casts doubt on the most basic democratic principle: that the people who win the public’s support should rightly govern.

… The idea that majority rule is intrinsically oppressive is necessarily an embrace of anti-democracy: an argument that an enlightened few, meaning Republican supporters, should be able to make decisions for the rest of us. If the election is close, and Trump makes a serious play to steal it, Lee’s “we’re not a democracy” argument provides a ready-made justification for tactics that amount to a kind of legal coup.

Ben Sasse is similarly anti-democratic in his proposal to repeal the 17th Amendment, so that senators would once again be chosen by state legislatures rather than by popular vote. As he surely realizes, that would allow the Senate to be even more gerrymandered than the House. Just as the voters of Michigan, Wisconsin, and several other states can’t get rid of the Republican majorities in their gerrymandered legislatures, they also wouldn’t be able to get rid of their Republican senators.

More and more Americans are realizing that science is on the ballot this year. A few weeks ago Scientific American made its first presidential endorsement ever. This week The New England Journal of Medicine did:

Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

A research project in British Columbia picked 115 homeless people and randomly choose 50 of them to receive $7,500. Then it tracked all of them.

The people who received the money managed it pretty well: They were more likely to be food secure and got off the streets more quickly than the control group. Their spending on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs went down.

“It challenges stereotypes we have here in the West about how to help people living on the margins,” [Claire Williams, CEO of the funding foundation] said. 

and let’s close with something analytic

This is from 2013, but I just found it, so maybe you haven’t seen it either. It’s a quiz the NYT’s Upshot column put together to analyze what your word usage says about where you’re from. My own dialect heat map doesn’t pick out my central Illinois home town precisely, but my years in Chicago apparently pulled my usage north a bit.

Pursuing Happiness

When an ostrich buries its head in the sand as danger approaches, it very likely takes the happiest course.

– Charles S. Peirce, “The Fixation of Belief
Popular Science Monthly (November, 1877)

This week’s featured post is “Staying Sane in Anxious Times (without being useless)“.

This week everybody was talking about the looming Trump coup

The most important article of the week was Barton Gellman’s alarming “The Election That Could Break America“. Together with Trump’s repeated refusal to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power — something that has gone without saying in all previous administrations — we face the possibility that a significant majority of the American people might try to remove Trump from office and fail.

Biden’s current polling lead averages around 7.2%, which is sizeable and has been quite stable. But (as we saw in 2016), the Electoral College favors Trump, so Biden’s margin is smaller — 4.5% — in 538’s current tipping-point state of Pennsylvania.

Imagine that Trump’s voter-suppression tactics knock that margin down further, and that Trump’s people (who believe his claims that Covid-19 is not a big deal) are more likely that Biden’s to vote in person on election day. So on election night, Trump appears to be leading, but the lead shrinks as more and more mail-in ballots are counted.

Now Trump’s bogus drumbeat about mail-in voting fraud comes into play, and he charges that he has actually won, but fraudulent votes are being manufactured to steal his victory. Like most of what Trump says, this is bullshit, but it gives cover for Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered-into-power Republican legislature to exercise a long-dormant constitutional power to ignore the vote count and name its own slate of Trump-supporting electors.

Something similar happens in Ohio and Arizona and North Carolina and Florida, which represent enough electoral votes to put Trump over the top. Disputes about this percolate through Congress, and nobody is sure what happens then.

The bigger Biden’s national margin, and the more states that he appears likely to win if all votes are counted, the farther-fetched all this gets. But it’s scary to realize that it is not an impossible scenario.

If that does start to play out, the difference may come down to Belarus-style demonstrators in the streets in Harrisburg or Columbus or outside the White House or wherever the bad stuff seems to be centered. Think about what you’re prepared to do and where you’re prepared to do it, and check websites like Choose Democracy for suggestions.

But above all, don’t freeze. Pushing Biden to a sizeable legitimate margin is the first line of defense against the Trump coup.

Republicans pushed back gently and uncertainly against Trump’s threats to democracy. Lindsey Graham:

Now, we may have litigation about who won the election, but the court will decide and if the Republicans lose, we will accept that result. But we need a full court

That’s still a long way from “Let the voters decide”, as Garrett Graff observes:

What Republicans are really saying here is they’ll support a peaceful transition to Biden *if* their outright voter suppression, hostile efforts to curtail the ability of people to vote at all, AND court packing to influence election disputes all fail.

Here’s how determined Florida Republicans are to suppress the vote:

Florida’s attorney general has requested that the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to reinstate the voting rights of felons by paying their fees, according to a letter to the agencies provided to CNN by the attorney general’s office.

Florida voters thought they had reinstated the voting rights of felons who had served their time (except for murderers and sex offenders) when they overwhelmingly passed Constitutional Amendment 4 in 2018. But immediately the legislature added the provision that all fines and court costs needed to be paid as well. Many of the felons are poor, so the extra requirement amounts to a poll tax: If you can’t pay, you can’t vote.

It is also difficult for felons to determine what they owe. The Florida Division of Elections web site says:

If a person is still unsure about fines, fees, costs, and restitution, and the impact upon restoration of voting rights, the person can ask for an advisory opinion from the Florida Division of Elections. Please review section 106.23(2), Florida Statutes, and Florida Administrative Code Rule 1S-2.010 for how to ask for an advisory opinion and what information is required.

So Bloomberg and others have stepped in to clear the ledger. That’s the effort the Florida AG wants to investigate.

If things are going well for Trump, why is the campaign mastermind behind the Tulsa rally threatening to kill himself?

and his (lack of) taxes

This week’s Trump exposé:

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office.

What do those records show?

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

… The picture that perhaps emerges most starkly from the mountain of figures and tax schedules prepared by Mr. Trump’s accountants is of a businessman-president in a tightening financial vise.

Most of Mr. Trump’s core enterprises — from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative-magnet hotel in Washington — report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.

Revenue from “The Apprentice” cancelled out a lot of his business losses, but that money is drying up. Meanwhile, $300 million in loans are coming due in the next few years, and the IRS has challenged a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed many years ago.

This all came out yesterday, so I’m only seeing snap reactions. Chris Hayes:

Some people I’m seeing comment on this are vastly overestimating how “normal for a rich guy” these taxes are. Mitt Romney’s taxes were “normal for a super rich guy.” These are not.

Romney released returns showing he paid

$1.9 million in taxes on $13.69 million in income in 2011, most of it from his investments, for an effective rate of 14.1 percent

You may well have paid more than 14.1%, but $1.9 million is still way more than $750 or zero.

James Fallows:

With near-zero tax payments, either (a) he’s lying about being a business success, or (b) he’s lying to the IRS about his losses. Take your pick.

My own snap reaction to Trump’s precarious finances: If he can hold on to the presidency, he has nothing to worry about. Vladimir Putin is worth plenty of money, and so is MBS. I’m sure they’d be more than willing to prop up a President of the United States.

If he loses the election, though, he might have a problem. That (along with the possibility of going to jail) might be why he refuses to promise a peaceful transfer.

and Amy Coney Barrett

As was widely predicted, here and elsewhere, Trump has nominated Judge Amy Comey Barrett to rise from the Seventh Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.

She has been on the short list for previous Supreme Court appointments, so all the major court-watching organizations have their points and counterpoints well prepared. Basically, she is the most religiously radical of the Trump nominees. She’s not just Catholic — like five current justices — she belongs to People of Praise, an inter-denominational group that was one of the inspirations for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The group believes in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings, staples of Pentecostal churches that some Catholics have also adopted in a movement called charismatic renewal. The People of Praise was an early leader in the flowering of that movement in North America. It is ecumenical, but about 90 percent of its members are Catholic.

… Some former members criticize the group for deviating from Catholic doctrine, which does not teach “male headship,” in contrast to some evangelical churches. The personal advisers can be too controlling, the critics say; they may betray confidences, and too often they supplant the role of priest.

Mr. Lent [a PoP leader] said the group’s system of heads and handmaids promotes “brotherhood,” not male dominance. He said the group recently dropped the term “handmaid” in favor of “woman leader.”

“We follow the New Testament pattern of asking men to take on some spiritual responsibility for their families,” he said.

Conservatives are already gearing up their charges of “anti-Catholic bigotry“, but so far there is no substance behind those claims. Literally no one is attacking Barrett for being Catholic.

E. J. Dionne notes the double standard:

It wasn’t the American Civil Liberties Union or some other bastion of liberalism that questioned Joe Biden’s Catholic faith. No, it was a speaker at this year’s GOP convention, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, who called Biden a Catholic “in name only” because of Biden’s support for abortion rights. A conservative group called CatholicVote is spending $9.7 million in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other battleground states attacking the devout Biden as an “existential threat” to the church.

And Trump himself rather astonishingly declared that Biden would “hurt God,” and “hurt the Bible,” too. I didn’t hear Pence say anything about Trump’s “intolerance” toward Biden’s faith.

Josh Marshall:

I don’t know a lot about Amy Coney Barrett. But I know she’s accepting nomination from a President actively trying to subvert a national election and threatening to hold on to power by force, an attack on the constitution unparalleled in American history. Do I need to know more?

BTW, I don’t think it’s “bigotry” even if someone suggests that the Court doesn’t need a sixth Catholic. Maybe we could have just a bit of religious diversity, beyond the two Jews and one Episcopalian in the current non-Catholic minority.

If you really want to see religious bigotry, suggest putting an atheist on the Court. Or a Muslim, or a Hindu.

and the lack of Breonna Taylor charges

Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the findings of the grand jury in the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville apartment on March 13. None of the three police officers were charged with offenses related to Taylor’s death, though one was charged with reckless endangerment because his bullets penetrated a neighboring apartment. (The NYT summarizes the officer’s action: He “fired into the sliding glass patio door and window of Ms. Taylor’s apartment, both of which were covered with blinds, in violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight.”)

Cameron recounts events one way. Georgetown law professor Paul Butler tells the same story differently in a Washington Post op-ed “I am a former prosecutor. The charge in Breonna Taylor’s death is pathetically weak.” Butler asserts that all three officers should have been charged with manslaughter.

The two accounts agree on certain facts: Breonna Taylor was not a suspect in any crime, but police believed her ex-boyfriend was using her apartment to receive packages that could be drugs. They obtained a search warrant and broke down the door. Taylor’s current boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired once and wounded the first officer through the door. The three officers shot 30 rounds; none hit Walker, but six hit Taylor. There is no body-camera video from any of the three officers.

Police claim they knocked repeatedly and announced themselves as police before breaking down the door. Walker reported being awakened by knocking, but says he believed he was shooting at home invaders, not police with a legitimate warrant. (Walker called 911 and said, “I don’t know what’s happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”) Butler adds this detail:

We know the officers continued to fire long after any threat ceased. A neighbor called 911 to report gunfire, and 68 seconds into the call, you can still hear the shots.

Cameron mentioned the lack of bodycam video, but only as a challenge for investigators to overcome, not as a suspicious detail to interpret against the police. One of the officers who fired was photographed wearing a body-cam holder on his vest. VICE News says: “This contradicts statements by the Louisville Metro Police Department that the officers involved, who work narcotics, do not wear body cameras.

and the third wave of the virus

The first wave of the virus was centered in the Northeast during March and April. The second wave hit the South and West in June and July. The third wave is attacking the Midwest. The highest per-100K-people new-case rates are in the Dakotas and Wisconsin.

Nationally, the daily new-case rate bottomed out at around 35K two weeks ago, and has risen to 45K. Death rates run 2-3 weeks behind, so we should start seeing an increase there soon.

Governor DeSantis has ended all Covid-19 restrictions in Florida, including placing barriers in the way of local governments having their own restrictions. Bars, movie theaters, sporting events — it’s all fair game now.

Florida’s new-case numbers have flattened out at just under 3,000 a day, and deaths are averaging about 100 per day, with 203 reported on Wednesday. The CDC guidance back in April recommended two weeks of declining numbers before any move to relax restrictions.

More turmoil at the CDC. A week ago Friday it published new guidance about how Covid-19 spreads, saying that virus-carrying aerosol droplets can hang in the air and carry further than the previously recognized six feet. Last Monday it withdrew that guidance.

The CDC said that a draft version of proposed changes had been posted in error. The agency said it was updating information about airborne transmission of covid-19 and would post the new information once the review was completed.

The NYT adds this:

Experts with knowledge of the incident said on Monday that the latest reversal appeared to be a genuine mistake in the agency’s scientific review process, rather than the result of political meddling. Officials said the agency would soon publish revised guidance.

It is a sad fact of the Trump Era that we even need to consider the possibility of political meddling with CDC announcements.

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You may not have noticed, but Trump signed his long-promised executive order on healthcare. Presidents who can’t even unite their own party in Congress can do very little, so this does very little. It is essentially a long list of intentions, without any funding or programmatic change to back them up. Example:

It has been and will continue to be the policy of the United States to give Americans seeking healthcare more choice, lower costs, and better care and to ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions can obtain the insurance of their choice at affordable rates.

Who’s going to provide that insurance and how it will be paid for is not spelled out. It might as well be the policy of the United States to give all American children a pony.

Trump’s executive orders banning anti-racism training in both government agencies and government contractors speak volumes. Being openly racist isn’t acceptable in most of America, but Trump is anti-anti-racist, just like he’s anti-anti-fascist.

A big part of Biden’s electability case during the primaries was that he could draw votes from disaffected Republicans. We won’t know for sure until the election, but he is drawing a considerable number of Republican endorsements — most recently from former Pennsylvania Governor and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, and from John McCain’s widow. Ridge says this:

Pennsylvania voters, along with voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, are likely to ultimately determine the next president. So much is at stake. For me, voting is not just a privilege, but a responsibility. And this year, I believe the responsible vote is for Joe Biden. It’s a vote for decency. A vote for the rule of law. And a vote for honest and earnest leadership. It’s time to put country over party. It’s time to dismiss Donald Trump.

and let’s close with something cute

I’ve had cute-puppy weeks, so I guess it’s time for a cute-kitten week. Here’s a kitten who is clearly the reincarnation of a blissed-out yoga master. Meditate on that.

Evidence and Science

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science.

– “Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden

This week’s featured post is “The Illegitimacy of a Conservative Supreme Court“.

This week everybody was talking about Justice Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday at the age of 87.

Anyone who reads the major Supreme Court decisions, as I have been doing since I started this blog, develops opinions about the thinking abilities and writing styles of the justices. Justice Kennedy, for example, used to drive me nuts, even when I agreed with what he had decided. The reason so many gay-rights cases had to go all the way to the Supreme Court was that Kennedy’s majority opinions — despite their marvelous rhetorical flourishes — never got around to stating clear principles that lower-court judges could confidently apply to future cases. Invariably, two appeals courts would apply his decision in two different ways, and only new Supreme Court ruling could straighten the situation out.

Chief Justice Roberts can do good law when he wants to, but often he has some other agenda. His opinion striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act mainly rested on the notion that “things have changed” since the original version of the Act was passed — a political point some conservative senator should have made during the vote to reauthorize the Act, but not a legal principle that should have influenced the Court. Justice Alito I have no respect for at all; in every case I have read, he wants a certain outcome and will say whatever is needed to get there.

Ginsburg’s opinions, though, have consistently been my favorites. Beyond the fact that I have generally agreed with her in principle, I never came away from a Ginsburg opinion wondering what it really meant or how she arrived at that conclusion. She always defined her terms clearly, and recounted the precedents that had shaped their meanings through time. She rooted her statements in facts rather than rhetoric. Some of her best opinions have been dissents. I greatly appreciated her demolition of Alito’s Hobby Lobby decision and Roberts’ VRA decision. Those are both sterling examples of how a legal mind should work.

I can tell I’m hurting when I start generating fantasy-novel alternative histories. Why couldn’t some billionaire have whisked Ginsburg away to his private island for some hush-hush new “treatment”, then covered up her death until January?

and what comes next

Yes, we all remember Mitch McConnell refusing to give Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing because an election was coming up. Garland was nominated in March, 2016, and there was plenty of time to consider his nomination, but McConnell wanted to steal the seat for the next president.

Even at the time, no one really believed McConnell was standing on principle, and now it is clear that he was not. He has already said that the Senate will vote on a Trump nominee. Two Republican senators — Murkowski and Collins — have said the vote should not be held, but McConnell can afford to lose one more, and he probably won’t.

Trump has promised a nominee soon and says it will be a woman. (Remember how he criticized Joe Biden for restricting his VP candidates to women?) Probably that means Amy Coney Barrett. Having talked (in the featured post) about the pointlessness of speculation, I’ll make a prediction: Republicans have the votes and have no shame, so they’ll get it done. Probably they’ll do the hearings before the election, and hold the vote during the lame duck session. That will allow Susan Collins to wring her hands during the campaign, but fall into line for the vote.

Some are speculating that this helps Trump, but I don’t see it. The issues facing the Court, especially abortion rights, are ones where the public agrees more with Biden.

and Trump undermining his own government

A series of government experts said sensible things, only to have Trump contradict them.

CDC chief Robert Redfield told a Senate hearing:

I think there will be vaccine that will initially be available some time between November and December, but very limited supply, and it will have to be prioritized. If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.

He also said that face masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have”.

Trump said Redfield was “confused“, because of course Trump knows more about vaccines than the head of the CDC.

Apparently the CDC is not in charge of its own website, and White House political appointees can publish things in the CDC’s name.

A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month about who should be tested for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times.

… Similarly, a document, arguing for “the importance of reopening schools,” was also dropped into the C.D.C. website by the Department of Health and Human Services in July and is sharply out of step with the C.D.C.’s usual neutral and scientific tone, the officials said.

The information comes mere days after revelations that political appointees at H.H.S. meddled with the C.D.C.’s vaunted weekly reports on scientific research.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to Congress that Antifa — which Trump and conservative media has turned into a boogy-man responsible for all kinds of nefarious and violent activity — is “not a group or an organization. It’s a movement or an ideology.”

Trump immediately had to contradict him, because he knows more about Antifa than the FBI:

And I look at them as a bunch of well funded ANARCHISTS & THUGS who are protected because the Comey/Mueller inspired FBI is simply unable, or unwilling, to find their funding source, and allows them to get away with “murder”.

I’m not sure what “murder” is supposed to mean, and I’m always mystified by the “well-funded” part of the conspiracy theory. What does Antifa do that requires money?

and Republicans turning on Trump (sort of)

It’s hard to know what to make of the NYT op-ed “What’s At Stake in This Election? The American Democratic Experiment” written by Trump’s former Director of National lntelligence Dan Coats.

His main premise is certainly valid: For our system of government to work, the American people need to believe that the elections they vote in are legitimate.

Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.

If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome.

But his bipartisan view-from-nowhere loses credibility when he can’t state the obvious: The current American leader does want such an outcome. Trailing badly in the polls, Trump works tirelessly to sow doubt about the possibility of a fair election. Without offering evidence of any kind, he proclaims that if he loses, the election is a fraud. He claims mail-in voting can’t be trusted, despite the fact that it has been used for years in states as politically different as Oregon and Utah, without any of the problems Trump predicts. Avoiding the mail by using drop-boxes, Trump says, is also a “voter security disaster”. He warns that the election won’t be decided “until two months later“, during which time “lots of things will happen”.

In every case, Trump offers no solution other than “Don’t do it.” Don’t vote by mail. Don’t use a dropbox. Don’t vote early. Don’t open more polling stations. Don’t appropriate money to help election officials in any way. Just don’t do it. If you’re afraid to wait in a long line on Election Day, don’t vote.

Whenever he has been asked for evidence to support his wild claims, he has failed to produce any. Early in his administration, he assembled a commission for the sole purpose of proving that he didn’t really lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016. The commission disbanded without issuing a report, having found nothing to back up Trump’s charge that 3-5 million fraudulent votes — or any significant number of fraudulent votes — were cast.

Coats’ call for Congress to establish a “supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election” will go nowhere, because establishing it will become a partisan issue. Even if it could be established, Trump would denounce it too as soon as it blessed the legitimacy of an election he lost. The “supremely bipartisan and nonpartisan commission” would be just another manifestation of the Deep State.

The root of Coats’ vision — members of both parties coming together to save American democracy — is already flawed. Democrats are for democracy and Republicans are not; that’s where we’ve gotten to. If Coats wants to save democracy, he needs to support Biden. Nothing short of that will make the slightest difference.

Olivia Troye, who worked as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence for two years, has made a video for Republican Voters Against Trump.

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Scientific publications that usually stay out of national politics feel like they have to weigh in. Science has an editorial “Trump Lied About Science“.

Over the years, this page has commented on the scientific foibles of U.S. presidents. Inadequate action on climate change and environmental degradation during both Republican and Democratic administrations have been criticized frequently. Editorials have bemoaned endorsements by presidents on teaching intelligent design, creationism, and other antiscience in public schools. These matters are still important. But now, a U.S. president has deliberately lied about science in a way that was imminently dangerous to human health and directly led to widespread deaths of Americans.

This may be the most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy.

And Scientific American endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its 175-year history.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment.

Bill Barr’s Department of Trump is once again following the Leader’s instructions: It has opened a criminal investigation of John Bolton for blaspheming against the Leader in his book The Room Where It Happened.

Since Trump blasphemy is not yet in the legal code, the purported charge a grand jury has been impaneled to investigate is revealing classified information. The basic facts are well understood: Bolton submitted his manuscript for government review, and was told by the reviewer that his edits had satisfied her objections. But when an official OK was slow to materialize, Bolton published anyway. The administration sued to stop distribution of the book and lost.

The basis of the dispute is why the OK never came. The administration claims the manuscript still contained classified information; Bolton says Trump wanted to delay publication until after the election.

In general, classified-information cases are difficult for the public to judge. (Example: the Clinton email investigation.) If Bolton really has revealed classified information, the government can’t just point to a line in the book and say: “There”, because that announcement in itself would violate security. (When I was being taught about classification in my old job, the instructor told us about an article in Aviation Week that gave the specs of a new aircraft. Someone who had inside knowledge of the program had gone through the article with a highlighter, picking out the classified information. Those highlights made that copy of the article a classified document, despite the fact that the underlying article had already been published. The specs were just a rumor until the insider’s highlights verified them. It’s a little like the stoning scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where the prosecutor gets stoned for repeating what the blasphemer said.)

And from the outside, it’s often hard to tell whether a fact is classified or not. Publishing the nuclear codes would be obvious, but there also might be good reasons why the government doesn’t want some apparently innocuous detail to get out, like that a particular official was in a certain city on a certain day.

On the other hand, Trump has made ridiculous claims about classified information in the past, and in particular with regard to Bolton and his book.

I will consider every conversation with me, as president, highly classified. So that would mean that if he wrote a book and if the book gets out, he’s broken the law. And I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.

With all those caveats in mind, this investigation looks bad. It has all the appearances of using the Justice Department to persecute a political enemy, and to intimidate any Trump insiders who might turn against the Leader in the future.

Another credible sexual assault charge against Trump. Every week seems to have new revelations. I think people realize we’re at a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace point with Trump. In 2016, you could imagine that he would lose anyway, so your story didn’t need to reach the public. This year, with the possible end of democracy staring us in the face, those people are coming forward.

It looks like TikTok will continue to operate in the US. Trump has indicated acceptance of a deal in which a new US-centered TikTok Global will be owned 80% by the Chinese company ByteDance (the previous owner of TikTok) and 20% by an Oracle/Walmart consortium.

Wired comments:

From the beginning, Trump’s strategy for TikTok, like so many things, was messy and incoherent. For weeks, the president said that only selling the app to an American company would alleviate national security concerns. Now, the deal with Oracle is being described as merely a “partnership,” which caused Republican lawmakers to call for its rejection.

… All along, the administration has failed to provide evidence that TikTok, which employs over 1,000 people in the United States, was doing anything particularly nefarious. The company, as well as outside security researchers, have said TikTok’s data collection practices are in line with those of similar domestic social media platforms. “Here we are banging on the table that we are the ones who have rule of law,” says Jason Healey, a senior research scholar at Columbia University specializing in cyber conflict. “Then where is the evidence?”

Maybe there are real national security issues and maybe this arrangement solves them. Or maybe Trump is doing some kind of shakedown. I wish we had a president I could trust.

There is some confused rumbling about Oracle/Walmart contributing $5 billion to an education fund, which may or may not be the “1776 Project” Trump wants to indoctrinate American schoolchildren with “patriotic education”. Or maybe the project and the money alike are part of Trump’s alternative reality.

You know which corporate giant is pledging to “achieve zero emissions across our global operations by 2040 … without relying on carbon offsets”? Walmart.

Whenever you hear an announcement like this, you always have to wonder how seriously to take it. Corporations have a way of doing whatever they were going to do anyway and calling it “green”. But even though I don’t trust Walmart, I do trust Vox’ environmental writer David Roberts, who tweets:

Wal-Mart is not The Libs. It’s not doing something this big to virtue signal or appeal to a particular upscale market niche (those are just gravy). It’s doing this because it’s going to save a shitload of money.

Maybe that’s where we are now: solar-paneling your big flat roof, fleets of electric vehicles, and so on — maybe that’s just good cost management.

The Big Ten has reversed itself and is now planning to start its football season on October 23.

and let’s close with something rewarding

The Daily Show announces the first (and hopefully only) Pandemmy Awards “celebrating the most breathtaking achievements of this pandemic season”. You can still vote for the winners, who will be announced on tonight’s show.

Blood, Sweat, and Miracles

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

– Winston Churchill

It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.

– Donald Trump

There is no featured post this week.

This week everybody was talking about the wildfires in the West

The fires are still being battled in California, Oregon, and other western states. I’m not going to try to cover the breaking news: Here’s CNN’s latest.

Even in a year with so many signs of the Apocalypse that we joke about it, the smoke-filled orange skies of San Francisco stand out. The local ABC TV station shot a drone video at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

This shot of the Golden Gate Bridge was taken about an hour later.

Air quality measures in parts of Oregon and California have literally been off the charts.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index – or AQI – measures air pollution on a scale of one to 500, with lower numbers indicating healthier air. A reading over 200 is considered “very unhealthy” for humans. Above 300 is considered “Hazardous.” On Wednesday afternoon, AQI readings along the I-5 corridor in Oregon hit 599 on the EPA’s map for Oregon, and upwards of 700 in some locations on the popular PurpleAir monitoring site.

Grist explains the health hazzard:

The problem is all the fine particulate matter that’s being generated by the West Coast wildfires. These particles get suspended in the air and can cause health problems when they’re inhaled. The smallest particles — known as PM 2.5 — are especially concerning, since the body can’t filter them out.

“The 2.5 will just cruise past everything in your nose,” said Amy MacPherson, a public information officer for the California Air Resources Board. These particles can get lodged in people’s lungs, she explained, “and if they’re even smaller than that they can get into your bloodstream.” Health effects include an increased chance of cardiac arrhythmias, asthma attacks, and heart attacks.

These are all major concerns for a particulate matter AQI value as low as 300. It’s unclear what could happen to human health with an AQI that more than doubles that number.

Lest you think those off-the-charts air quality index readings were in obscure smoke-collecting valleys, it also went over 500 in Portland.

Right-wing disinformation is becoming a permanent part of the landscape: Q-Anon and numerous other conservative voices have been pushing the false rumor that Antifa agents have been arrested for starting the fires.

The next note talks about the things Trump wants or doesn’t want the public to panic about: Don’t panic about real threats like Covid-19; do panic about Mexican rapists and caravans of migrant “invaders” and planeloads of Antifa terrorists headed for your town to start a riot.

One of the real threats he doesn’t want the public to lose sleep over is climate change, which creates the conditions that produce massive wildfires. He does seem to have stopped calling climate change a “hoax” (though with him you can never tell when a zombie lie will rise again). Instead, he just doesn’t mention it, as if he could make it go away by refusing to talk about it.

I had planned to demonstrate how little Trump cares about climate change by quoting the Issues section of his campaign web site, but instead I made an even more startling discovery: There is no Issues section of the Trump 2020 web site. Instead, there is an entirely backward-looking “Promises Kept” page promoting Trump’s “accomplishments” while stating no intentions or goals for a second term — just like the 2020 Republican platform, which is the 2016 platform.

Anyway, the “Energy and Environment” page of Promises Kept — can’t let the Environment steal top billing from Energy — does not contain the word “climate”. It mentions “greenhouse gases” only once: in a claim that Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy plan will reduce greenhouse gases. (The claim is false.) The page does brag about rescinding Obama’s “costly” regulations, many of which were intended to reduce America’s contribution to climate change. (The methane emissions regulation, for example.) But the only thing to know about these regulations is that they cost somebody something; what they might have achieved is not discussed.

While we’re talking about “promises kept”, the NYT’s Nicholas Kristoff evaluates:

  • The Wall isn’t built.
  • Mexico isn’t paying for it.
  • Undocumented immigrants are still here
  • If the “crime and violence” had “soon” gone away, as he promised, he wouldn’t be running on law and order again.
  • Instead of defending the lives of Americans, he bears a lot of responsibility for the 195K dead of Covid.
  • He made the burden of student loans heavier, not lighter.
  • He neither repealed ObamaCare nor presented any plan for replacing it.
  • Five million jobs have been lost since the start of his administration.
  • Rather than “drain the swamp”, his administration has eviscerated ethics rules, and eight of his associates have been either accused or convicted of crimes.
  • He fulfilled his promise to appoint a lot of conservative judges.
  • He promised “the truth” and delivered an unprecedented number of lies.
  • He never tried to pass an infrastructure bill.
  • His tax cut mainly benefits the rich, not the middle class.
  • Rather than pay off the national debt, he has seen it increase from $19 trillion to $26 trillion.
  • He did increase the military budget, as he promised.
  • ISIS was defeated, largely by continuing the strategy Obama left behind.
  • There is still no peace between Israel and Palestine.
  • He claimed “nobody will be pushing us around”, but Vladimir Putin leads Trump by the nose.

and the Woodward book

Another week, another damaging Trump exposé. This week, it’s Bob Woodward’s Rage, which is based on 18 on-the-record conversations with Trump, all on tape. So we can skip the did-he-really-say-that part of last week’s exposé, the Atlantic article that has him calling American soldiers killed in combat “losers” and “suckers”.

Here’s the most frequently quoted revelation:

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.

At that time, Trump was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than a seasonal flu, predicting it would soon disappear and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control. It would be several weeks before he would publicly acknowledge that the virus was no ordinary flu and that it could be transmitted through the air.

Trump admitted to Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Woodward assesses the damage:

Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states. There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced.

Woodward also spent hundreds of hours talking to current and former top Trump administration officials, including the ones collectively known as “the adults in the room” (back in the early days of the administration when there were adults in the room): Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and Dan Coats, who seem unified in their belief that they needed to cover for a president who was dangerously unfit.

For the most part, I have to agree with Washington Post reviewer Rosa Brooks: “we knew all this already”. And yet, I have to wonder if hearing Trump say this stuff himself will make a difference. All those times when he compared coronavirus to the flu, or claimed that it would soon go away “like a miracle”, he knew better. That’s not debatable now, we have it in his own words.

And for all his followers who are still claiming the virus has been overblown by some deep-state conspiracy: We have Trump on tape saying the opposite.

A bunch of bloggers and columnists have made this point: Trump’s I-didn’t-want-people-to-panic explanation for playing down the virus doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Trump tries to raise panic all the time. He wants us to panic about caravans of MS-13 gangsters and Middle Eastern terrorists coming to “invade” or “infest” our country, about planes full of Antifa conspirators going from city to city starting riots, about babies being “executed” just after birth, and so on. His campaign ads look like trailers for the horror movie Joe Biden’s America. Sometimes people get so panicked by Trump’s wild rhetoric that they start shooting Hispanics in an El Paso mall.

The primary difference between Covid-19 and all the stories Trump has told to panic his followers is that Covid-19 is a real danger.

A real leader would have told the country to the truth back in February: that this is serious, and it’s going to require some adjustments and sacrifices from all of us. That leader wouldn’t have stoked panic, but would have reassured the country that we will get through this if we take appropriate action.

Instead, again and again, Trump has undercut appropriate actions, while telling the public fairy tales. He has never put together a national plan of action or mobilized the power of the federal government. He has pushed states to reopen too quickly, and is still pushing. He has encouraged protesters who threatened violence against governors who followed medical advice. He has held dangerous rallies. He has ridiculed Joe Biden and others for taking appropriate precautions. He has promoted snake-oil cures like hydroxychloraquine and oleandrin.

Trump and the usual collection of Trump sycophants have placed the Woodward quotes in the context of calming statements from the great leaders of World War II.

Trump compared himself to Churchill, which caused Daniel Dale to look up Churchill’s first speech as prime minister in May, 1940:

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

What Churchill never said during the Blitz was “The Luftwaffe is very much under control in Great Britain.”

Keeping to the theme, Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy invoked Franklin Roosevelt:

The president said he did not want to freak people out. He wanted to keep people calm during this time of great national uncertainty. Think about it, during the depression, it was FDR who had his fireside chats to calm America.

Similarly, it’s worth a minute or two of your time to look at the text of FDR’s first fireside chat on March 12, 1933 (eight days after his inauguration). He explained why he had temporarily closed the banks, what the government had done since to make banks more secure, and what the public could expect as banks began to reopen. He did not say that the Depression was just the sniffles, or promise that it would disappear “like a miracle“. (That sounds more like the quote Herbert Hoover is known for, but never actually said: “Prosperity is just around the corner.”) Instead, FDR closed like this:

Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.

Imagine if Trump had done that in February: explained what the government would do to get the epidemic under control, described the public’s role in that plan, and then said “Together we cannot fail.” Instead, he repeatedly sugar-coated the situation and did nothing.

Here’s a Trump comparison that fits much better than Churchill or Roosevelt: the mayor from Jaws.

Republicans in Congress have almost uniformly either made excuses for Trump or dodged questions about the Woodward book. Friday, Susan Collins had the misfortune to be in a televised debate with her challenger Sara Gideon — a setting where you can’t just have an aide jump in and say, “No more questions.” Forced to comment, Collins came up with this: Trump “should have been straightforward with the American people … I have said since the beginning that the President’s performance has been uneven.”

Uneven? Getting 200K Americans killed, probably about half of them through sheer incompetence, is an uneven performance?

A meme for attacking these spineless politicians: Pathetic Cowards for Trump.

and Bill Barr’s latest corruptions of the Justice Department

Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a motion to take over the defense of a defamation lawsuit against Trump. in her book What Do We Need Men For? published last year, E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. Trump accused her of lying and claimed he had never met her and could not have raped her because she’s “not my type”. Carroll sued for defamation, and a New York state court had moved the case into the discovery phase, when Trump might be obliged to produce a DNA sample.

That’s the case that Barr thinks the Justice Department should defend, using taxpayer funds. He also wants the case moved to federal court where it would go away,

because Trump would come under the protection of the federal government’s “sovereign immunity.” Barr’s minions are, quite literally, trying to deny Carroll her day in court. At taxpayer expense.

Barr’s rationale is that Trump denied Carroll’s charges, and commented on her type, while “acting in his official capacity”. Apparently, insulting women accusing you of rape is now considered part of the President’s job. I hope the federal judge who rules on this motion asks a lot of probing questions about exactly which line in Article II of the Constitution defines that presidential responsibility.

Marcy Wheeler:

As I contemplated Barr’s decision to claim that accusing a credible alleged rape victim was all part of Trump’s job as President, I thought briefly about what it says of Bill Barr’s faith, that he would make it official DOJ policy to condone attacks on claimed rape victims like this. But then I remembered that Bill Barr is of the generation of Catholics where that is the job of the official bureaucracy, to throw all the institutional weight of the Church into protecting alleged rapists and suppressing credible accusations, even to the point of attacking the victims.

A different case is disturbing in a different way. In fact, I’m not sure which is more disturbing: federal agents killing the suspected Portland shooter Michael Reinoehl on September 3, or the way Trump and Barr have been crowing about it.

Killing a suspect, even justifiably (and it’s not clear yet whether this killing was justified), should always be a regrettable event for law enforcement officers. They’re not supposed to be judge and jury; they’re supposed to apprehend suspects and let the judicial system do its work. But Bill Barr’s statement expressed none of that regret:

The tracking down of Reinoehl — a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer — is a significant accomplishment in the ongoing effort to restore law and order to Portland and other cities. I applaud the outstanding cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement, particularly the fugitive task force team that located Reinoehl and prevented him from escaping justice. The streets of our cities are safer with this violent agitator removed, and the actions that led to his location are an unmistakable demonstration that the United States will be governed by law, not violent mobs.

In fact, killing Reinoehl does exactly the opposite: It calls into question whether the United States will be ruled by law or by federal death squads.

[BTW, Reinoehl said on social media he was “100% Antifa all the way”, but that’s the only evidence connecting him to Antifa. Whether he was a “member” or just a sympathizer is still debatable. It’s not even clear what being a “member” of Antifa means. It’s not like they have a directory and ID cards.]

Meanwhile, Trump makes Portland sound like the Wild West, with lawmen killing Reinoehl like he was Jesse James or Billy the Kid.

In Portland the other day we had to send in the U.S. Marshals. A man who’s a bad guy, bad guy, shot somebody right in the middle of the street. … Two and a half days nothing happened, I said, “What’s going on?” We sent in the U.S. Marshals, it was taken care of in 15 minutes.

And his crowd cheered. In a country under the rule of law, murder suspects should not be “taken care of in 15 minutes”. That’s nothing to brag about or cheer about. The previous day he said something similar to Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro:

Two and a half days went by, and I put out “When are you going to go get him?” And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him in a short period of time, and it ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I will tell you something: That’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.

Retribution is not for the Marshals — or anyone in the Executive Branch — to dish out. And we certainly don’t want the President to be able to call the Justice Department and ask them to go kill somebody (which is what Trump seems to be claiming he did). But we have a President who either doesn’t know or doesn’t believe that.

and the virus

The daily new cases and new deaths numbers are declining, but are still at levels that just about any other country would consider disastrous. The seven-day rolling averages are down to about 35,000 new cases per day and 800 deaths. These death rates are like 200 Benghazis a day or two 9-11s each week.

We’re getting close to 200,000 total deaths, and should pass that total this week or next (depending on how you total up). In deaths-per-million-people, the US will likely pass 600 today. That leaves us still doing better than countries like Belgium (856), Spain (636), and the UK (613), but considerably worse than Germany (112), Canada (243), Japan (11), and South Korea (7). Our numbers are now even worse than Italy’s (589). Remember when Italy was the country nobody wanted to be?

Recently, the virus has faded in the South and broken out in the Great Plains. Friday, Kansas (population 2.9 million), had 13 deaths. Canada (population 37.6 million), zero.

Meanwhile, we wait to see if Labor Day socializing or the reopening of schools or the fans returning to some sporting events will spark a new surge. We probably won’t know for another couple weeks.

Last night, Trump held an indoor rally in Henderson, Nevada. Despite a statewide ban on meetings of over 50 people, he spoke to thousands of supporters inside a manufacturing plant. The rally ignored social distancing and few attendees wore masks. It was Trump’s first large indoor rally since the Tulsa rally that was blamed for a surge in coronavirus cases in the area and may have killed Herman Cain.

Astra Zeneca briefly stopped its vaccine trials after a patient got sick in a way that suggested an adverse reaction. But Saturday testing resumed.

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Lots of speculation concerns how long we’ll have to wait after Election Day to find out who won. Well, there is one scenario where we know right away: if Biden wins North Carolina.

North Carolina allows election officials to begin counting mail-in ballots before Election Day. (Technically, the ballots are run through tabulating machines, but election officials don’t see results until Election Day. Only on November 3 can somebody push a button to see what the tabulator knows.) People who mailed early plus those who voted in person might be enough of the electorate to call the state.

North Carolina is a state that Trump has to have, but Biden doesn’t, and Biden currently has a tiny lead in the state polling. So if we know early that Biden took North Carolina, we can be pretty sure he’s going to win the election. If Trump wins it, we might not know for a long time who will be the next president. If it’s too close to call, that suggests Biden will win, but isn’t as conclusive as if he had NC’s 15 electoral votes in his pocket.

Protesters are continuing to brave repression in Belarus. Meanwhile, their dictator Lukashenko is meeting with Putin.

Brexit is still not a done deal. There is a treaty, but details of trade between the UK and EU are still to be worked out. The treaty, though, protects the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland: The Ireland/Northern Ireland border has to stay open. But that puts the burden on the UK to keep goods out of Northern Ireland that would be either banned or tariffed in the EU. Prime Minister Johnson is now saying the UK won’t fulfill that obligation, which means the whole thing could still fall apart into a no-deal Brexit.

The Trump/Russia conspiracy is ongoing: Rudy Giuliani has been working with a Russian agent to smear Joe Biden.

Thursday, the Treasury Department sanctioned “four Russia-linked individuals for attempting to influence the U.S. electoral process”. One of them is kind of significant.

Treasury designated Andrii Derkach (Derkach) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13848 for his efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Derkach, a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, has been an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services. Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election.

… From at least late 2019 through mid-2020, Derkach waged a covert influence campaign centered on cultivating false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, spurring corruption investigations in both Ukraine and the United States designed to culminate prior to election day. Derkach’s unsubstantiated narratives were pushed in Western media through coverage of press conferences and other news events, including interviews and statements.

Russian agents like this don’t work alone, though. They work through American dupes and accomplices, including two you may have heard of.

[Derkach] was a key source for baseless information touted by [Rudy] Giuliani and [President Donald] Trump smearing Biden and his son, Hunter, over activities in Ukraine when Biden was vice president.

Jonathan Capehart asked Giuliani the obvious question, and got no substantive answer.

You’re a former prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, a former mayor of New York City, you have a national security firm. How could you not know that this person you were talking to was a known Russian agent?

A crazy epilogue to the tear-gas-protesters-for-Trump’s-photo-op story: It may have caused a Covid-19 outbreak in the Farmville, Virginia immigrant detention center.

Trump wanted ICE agents to join Bill Barr’s non-army army to quash the protests in D.C., and the quickest way to do that was to charter flights. But rules prevent ICE agents from flying on those planes unless they are accompanying detainees. So they shipped detainees to Virginia unnecessarily. Some of those transported immigrants were Covid-positive.

I don’t think of the NYT as a neutral source when the subject is The Intercept, the left-of-center online publication started by Glenn Greenwald after he received the trove of information leaked by Edward Snowden. But its account of how The Intercept mishandled the Reality Winner leak pulls together a story I had only heard in pieces.

I have mixed feelings about Greenwald, whose “Unclaimed Territory” blog was one of the influences that got me into blogging. In the early days of the Iraq War, he was a rare voice speaking out bluntly against the militaristic rah-rah-America spirit of the times. In recent years, though, he has been so stubbornly unwilling to see the Russian disinformation and manipulation threat that at times I wonder if he came out of the Snowden Affair compromised in some way. (WikiLeaks followed a more extreme version of the same trajectory, from pro-freedom-of-information to pro-Russia.)

The Chinese company ByteDance has a proposal to retain ownership of TikTok, but still escape US sanctions: US software giant Oracle takes over management of TikTok’s US operations and data in the cloud. Ars Technica summarizes the issues:

The big challenge facing ByteDance is the need to to satisfy the potentially conflicting demands of the US and Chinese governments. The US government has threatened to shut down TikTok over concerns that the Chinese government would compromise Americans’ privacy or exercise undue influence over the content Americans see. Transferring TikTok’s US operations to an American company could address those concerns.

But the Chinese government isn’t happy about the possibility of the US government essentially seizing a major Chinese technology asset for the benefit of a US competitor. Late last month, Beijing announced new export control rules restricting the sale of artificial intelligence technology—rules that apparently apply to the algorithm TikTok uses to recommend videos to its users. This means that ByteDance will need the approval of the Chinese authorities—as well as the Trump administration—before any deal can go through.

The non-sale to Oracle might thread the needle via corruption:

It’s a victory for Larry Ellison, the chairman of Oracle and one of the few technology tycoons who has been openly supportive of Donald Trump. Ellison held a fundraiser for Trump in February. … So if ByteDance believed Larry Ellison could use his personal relationship to Trump to get the deal approved, that would have been a compelling reason to choose Oracle [rather than accept a competing bid from Microsoft].

If the deal goes through, it is another step down the road to Putinism: A valuable corporate franchise can be channeled to a Trump-allied oligarch.

NBC’s Think blog provides tips for talking to friends and relatives who have gone down the Q-Anon rabbit hole. The tricky thing about any cultlike system is its epistemic closure: If the only information that can be trusted comes from the cult itself, the cult’s beliefs become unassailable.

In any such situation, I remember the Danny DeVito character from The War of the Roses. At one point his good friend says something truly insane about the process of splitting up with his estranged wife. And DeVito observes in a tone of concerned fascination: “This seems rational to you.”

A pattern that probably deserves a longer discussion sometime: Once belief systems start closing themselves off, they can become incubating grounds for even more closed systems.

For example: During the 20th century, Evangelical Christianity developed defense mechanisms to keep Darwinism at bay. The scientific community, and any media that trusts the scientific community, became suspect. Hence conservative Christians need their own news network and their own research institutes.

More recently, Trumpism has grown into a cult inside this protective Evangelical shell, and now Q-Anon is growing inside Trumpism. The kind of objective thinking that Evangelicals need to do if they’re going to root out these cancers could also threaten Evangelicalism itself.

and let’s close with something graphic

I grew up loving maps, especially ones that make you look at something in a different way. This map asks the question: What if we made US states out of the river basins, the way political divisions are drawn in Gambia? Some states, like Alabama or Tennessee, remain recognizable distortions of their current selves, and Santee is more or less South Carolina. But Mississippi goes all the way up to Minneapolis, Ohio goes from Erie to beyond Louisville, and Missouri winds up west of Yellowstone.

Summers and Winters

In a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay.

Martin Luther King

This week’s featured post is “Trump Despises His Supporters Too“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s disrespect for military service and death in war

Jeffrey Goldberg’s “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’” dominated the weekend’s news. This story is covered in the featured post, but I did want to add some context from Chris Jones :

Seems like a good time to remind everyone that The Atlantic’s fact checkers once challenged my belief that Lorne Michaels was eating snow peas during a meeting and later verified that he was, in fact, eating edamame. They are extremely thorough.

Joe Biden’s comment is also worth your attention:

When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the attorney general and went to Iraq for a year, won the bronze star and other commendations, he wasn’t a sucker. The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not ‘losers.’ If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every gold star mother and father and every blue star family that he has denigrated and insulted. Who the heck does he think he is?

and violence from the left and right

Vox’ Aaron Ross Coleman says that condemning riots is not an adequate response:

If looting and rioting have no place in a well-functioning democracy, then perhaps we should pause to consider that these are signs that Americans are not, in fact, in a functioning democracy. … In declining to reconcile the failure of America’s democratic institutions and in their strong denouncements of riots as political protest, elected officials like Trump and Biden avoid the truth — there is no more effective force for stopping riots than making a serious effort to stop police from killing Black people.

… Today it is perhaps the New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie who most pithily expressed how this relationship works. “Kenosha would be quiet if not for an incident of police brutality and abuse,” he wrote this week. “The same is true for other cities where rioting and disorder have taken place.”

I got the MLK quote above from this article, and then I looked up the larger context. It’s from a speech he gave in March, 1968 near Detroit, which had been through a massive riot the previous summer.

Now every year about this time, our newspapers and our televisions and people generally start talking about the long hot summer ahead. What always bothers me is that the long hot summer has always been preceded by a long cold winter. And the great problem is that the nation has not used its winters creatively enough to develop the program, to develop the kind of massive acts of concern that will bring about a solution to the problem. And so we must still face the fact that our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nations winters of delay. As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption. The question now, is whether America is prepared to do something massively, affirmatively and forthrightly about the great problem we face in the area of race and the problem which can bring the curtain of doom down on American civilization if it is not solved.

Coleman describes what we’re not getting done in the periods between a George Floyd murder and a Jacob Blake shooting:

In the executive branch, the recommendations from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing failed to be implemented nationwide. In the judicial branch, legal precedent still protects officers from the consequences of deadly force with qualified immunity. In the legislative branch, this summer’s police reform bills have stalled out. The institutional stalemate persists at the local level even in the bluest of districts like in New York City or Minneapolis, where police brutality persists, despite years of activism and electoral support for reform candidates.

All of which brings me back to a JFK quote I’ve used before: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

But the real violence story these days is happening on the right, where Kyle Rittenhouse is on his way to hero status. Joe Biden is denouncing political violence in all its forms, but Trump is not.

Meanwhile, polls are making it clear that the law-and-order theme is not working for Trump. a majority believes that he is making protests worse, that Biden would do a better job on criminal justice issues, and that Trump makes them feel less safe.

The 538 polling average currently has Biden ahead by 7.5%. But because of Trump Electoral College advantage, Biden needs a 3-4% margin to be confident of winning.

The Right is trying to make something out of Biden not denouncing Antifa by name, but where is their evidence that Antifa is doing anything? Tucker Carlson is talking to Chad Wolf about using the RICO laws against Black Lives Matter and Antifa, but they have the process backwards: RICO can never be the first crime a group is accused of. After you have a record of proven members of a group committing proven crimes, then you can make a case that those crimes are connected by a corrupt organization.

Show me two convictions for serious violent crimes, and then we can talk about whether something connects them.

Meanwhile, why don’t we stop police from killing and maiming Black people for no good reasons? Maybe that will solve the problem.

If we’re going to talk about militias, we should know what one really is. Erik Schechter writes at NBC New’s Think blog:

In 1903, we officially divided the militia into an “organized militia,” i.e., the National Guard (and, later, state defense forces), and the “unorganized militia.” This other militia includes every able-bodied male age 17 to 45 and serves as a reserve body that, at least theoretically, could be called up for service by the president. (States have their own rules for militia membership; Illinois, for instance, now counts women in its state militia.)

So, does being part of an unorganized militia give you and your buddies the right to sling AR-15s across your chest, don cammies and patrol the streets of Kenosha and other cities as the self-declared Super-Patriot Constitutional Militia for Liberty and Tricorn Hats? No, because a militia is not an armed gang; it operates under orders from a legal authority that a self-governed group does not.

… Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, notes that “there isn’t an affirmative right” to form one’s own militia. She cites Presser v. Illinois, in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1886 that a German immigrant didn’t have a Second Amendment right to march his socialist militia in Chicago without authorization from the state.

In Rochester, New York, a grand jury will investigate the death of Daniel Prude, who suffocated in March after police hooded him and pinned him to the ground.

Mr. Prude went into cardiac arrest during a struggle with officers and died a week later. The county medical examiner labeled his death a homicide caused by complications of asphyxiation in a prone position. But for months, the police in Rochester treated the case as a drug overdose after PCP, or angel dust, was found in his bloodstream.

… The case came to public attention only on Wednesday, more than five months after Mr. Prude’s death, when his family’s lawyer released body camera footage from the officers involved in detaining Mr. Prude. The footage was obtained through a public records request by the lawyer.

This case sums up my problem with the few-bad-apples/most-cops-are-good argument: Let’s say the cop who pinned Prude was a bad apple. But he didn’t cover this up by himself. Months ago, the authorities had access to the same body-camera footage they’re acting on now, but they did nothing until the video was made public and caused public outrage.

This pattern recurs again and again: When a cop kills someone, assaults someone, or commits some other crime, the other cops, the local prosecutors, and the police union circle the wagons around him. When they do that, they all join Team Bad Apple.

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Jon Lovett compares two ways of covering the same story. The Washington Post’s headline is “Trump and allies rachet up disinformation efforts in late stages of campaign“, while AP has “Dueling versions of reality define 1st week of fall campaign“. Lovett’s comment:

The Post is honest about this moment while the AP is a victim of it.

The difference goes to the heart of what journalism is supposed to do: Does the journalist cover a real world? Or is the world nothing but conflicting opinions which the journalist can only repeat? AP goes the second route:

On the campaign trail with President Donald Trump, the pandemic is largely over, the economy is roaring back, and murderous mobs are infiltrating America’s suburbs.

With Democrat Joe Biden, the pandemic is raging, the economy isn’t lifting the working class, and systemic racism threatens Black lives across America.

If only there were a real world that AP could examine these claims against. Does their weather report balance the people who say it rained today against the people who say it was sunny?

The Post, on the other hand, believes in a real world where reportable events happen.

On Aug. 30, the president retweeted footage of a Black man violently pushing a White woman on a subway platform under the caption, “Black Lives Matter/Antifa” — but the man was not affiliated with either group, and the video was shot in October. White House social media director Dan Scavino shared a manipulated video that falsely showed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seeming to fall asleep during a television interview, complete with a fake TV headline.

And Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican, released a video splicing together quotes from activist Ady Barkan — who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and uses computer voice assistance — to falsely make it sound as if he had persuaded Biden to defund police departments.

… The slew of false and misleading tweets and videos stood in contrast to the approach taken by Biden, the former vice president, who in 2019 took a pledge promising not to participate in the spread of disinformation over social media, including rejecting the use of “deep fake” videos.

If Republicans are looking for a way to torpedo Trump without actively endorsing Biden, Arnold Schwarzenegger provides a model: Come out against the underhanded tactics that Trump won’t admit to.

Schwarzenegger’s issue is voter suppression. Tweeting a link to a Reuters article about polling places closing in the South, Arnold comments:

I’m a fanatic about voting. Most people call closing polls voter suppression. Some say it is “budgetary.” What if I made it easy & solved the budgetary issue? How much would it cost to reopen polling places?

This is a serious question. Is closing polling stations about making it harder for minorities to vote, or is it because of budgets? If you say it’s because of your budget, let’s talk.

The Trump boat parade is a phenomenon that completely escapes me. I don’t get why a campaign would want to emphasize how many rich people support it. But if you’re going to do one, you should do it right, and not get a bunch of your boats sunk by each other’s wakes. If you wanted a metaphor for the Trump economy, very rich people swamping the boats of lesser rich people is pretty good.

Just because you don’t show obvious symptoms of Covid-19 doesn’t mean you’re not being harmed by it. Penn State has been looking at athletes who have been infected, and finds that a sizeable minority of them (one doctor said 30-35% and another corrected to 15%) suffer an enlargement of the heart muscle called myocarditis. The condition can lead to “arrhythmia, cardiac arrest and death, especially in a person who doesn’t know they have it and performs rigorous exercise”. Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who won 19 games in 2019, will miss the entire 2020 season because of myocarditis brought on by Covid-19.

Question and answer:

Q: Can you help me understand the Portland riots? Why haven’t you stopped the violence?

Portland Press Herald: Well, we’re a newspaper in Maine is the main reason.

and let’s close with something childish

The closer we get to Election Day, the less I want to be challenged by the closings. So light and fluffy is in. Last week we had puppies, this week a countdown of the top ten Muppet Show guest stars.

Unrequited Love of Country

All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. … It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.

Doc Rivers, coach of the L.A. Clippers basketball team,
responding to the Jacob Blake shooting

This week’s featured post is “The Four Big Lies of the Republican Convention“.

This week everybody was talking about the Kenosha and Portland shootings

As I often remind Sift readers: You don’t want to follow breaking news through a weekly blog put out by one person. We know that a caravan of MAGA trucks went through Portland Saturday night, ramming their way through BLM protesters who they pepper-sprayed. Eventually, there was a fatal shooting of someone who appears to have been a Trump supporter.

Meanwhile in Kenosha, where eight days ago Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a police officer as he tried to get into a vehicle where his kids were sitting in the back seat, a 17-year-old vigilante from Illinois killed two people and wounded a third on Tuesday. He has been charged with murder, but has become a hero to the far right. The boy walked right past police officers while holding his AR-15 and was not stopped or questioned. He went home to Illinois, where he will face an extradition hearing September 25.

James Fallows:

I can’t recall any pairing of events as closely-comparable-yet-starkly-different:
-Black man is shot in the back 7 times, while getting in car w his kids;
-White youth carrying AR-15 walks away, after killing people.

By the same police force, in the same town, in the same week.

As best I can make out, the Republican response to the current violence is that none of this would be happening if Trump were president.

The quote at the top of the page is from a three-minute, thoughtful, emotional — and apparently spontaneous — speech from L.A. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers. Here’s some more of it.

The training has to change in the police force. The unions have to be taken down in the police force. My Dad was a cop. I believe in good cops. We’re not trying to defund the police and take all their money away. We’re trying to get them to protect us just like they protect everybody else. … All we’re asking is that you live up to the Constitution — that’s all we’re asking — for everyone.

Before becoming a coach, Rivers was a player. He has never been a politician or a pundit. But I would argue that this statement was far more astute and well-spoken than anything ever said by Laura Ingraham, who famously told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble”.

Fahrad Manjoo:

With the arrest in Kenosha it’s time for moderate white leaders and clergy to speak out against fundamentalist white violence.

In case the snark went past you: A similar demand is made of moderate Muslims every time a Muslim commits an act of terrorism, and is often made of Black leaders after violence arises from a protest against racism. Of course you won’t hear any similar demand directed at “moderate white leaders”. That’s a major aspect of white privilege: Whites are individuals; they don’t bear responsibility for the crimes of other whites.

I can’t find the video, but Wednesday night I heard TNT basketball commentator (and NBA Hall-of-Famer) Charles Barkley talk about how “exhausting” it is to be black, and complain that nobody expects Tom Brady to explain what’s happening in the white community.

and the NBA-led general sports strike

When we think about changing government policy from the outside, we usually only talk about three tactics: voting, peaceful protest, and violence. This week the world of sports reminded us that there is another arrow in the quiver: general strike.

Historically, general strikes have been associated with broad organizations: radical multi-industry unions like the Wobblies, or a national Communist or Labor Party. In America, the only example I can think of is the Seattle general strike of 1919, which was called by the Wobblies and the AFL.

What swept the sports world this week, though, was a bottom-up strike in response to the Jacob Blake shooting discussed above. It started during a team meeting of the Milwaukee Bucks, the team whose territory is closest to Kenosha. (Currently, all NBA games are being played in a Covid-free bubble at Disney World in Orlando.) We can’t say exactly who started the conversation, but some reports attribute it to George Hill.

Wednesday, the Bucks were about to play a game that could send them to the next round of the playoffs, but the team decided not to take the floor. Their opponents, the Orlando Magic, could have responded by claiming a forfeit, but instead they joined the Bucks in refusing to play. Two more games were scheduled later that day (one had already been played), and those four teams also voted not to take the floor.

After the fact, the Bucks team owners — three rich white guys — got in line behind their players. TNT announcer Kenny Smith walked off the set in support of the NBA players. The WNBA joined the boycott. (In the photo below, players from the Washington Mystics and Atlanta Dream wear t-shirts with seven bullet holes in the back.) So did professional tennis, soccer, baseball, and hockey. The NFL season won’t begin for nearly two weeks, but practices were cancelled.

The entire sports world was on strike.

The downside of a spontaneous strike is that it’s not clear how to end it, because you don’t go in with a set of demands. The NBA playoffs resumed on Saturday, after an agreement between the players union and the league. Team owners will contribute $300 million over the next decade to economic growth in Black communities. In addition, several teams will help make voting easier in their home cities.

The Toyota Center will become a voting center in October, and this, this is something NBA owners should be getting behind. The Hawks have turned State Farm Arena into a polling place, the Pistons have done the same with their practice center.

At a minimum, the players made a lot of people pay attention to their concerns. Wednesday night, the NBA TV network had no games to cover, so the network’s commentators — many of whom are black ex-players or coaches — mostly talked among themselves about racial justice, sharing stories of their own experiences. It was the kind of conversation you might have expected to hear on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show, but it was all the more effective for being people not known as political reporters or pundits.

That evening was a reminder that even though sports fans are spread across the political spectrum, and may even be more conservative than liberal, the athletes who entertain us are largely Black or Hispanic or immigrants. It may be CEOs who buy the corporate boxes in the stadiums, but a large number of players come from poverty.

Workers have power, if they just say no. We’ve known that ever since the plebians walked out of Rome in 495 BC. But we tend to forget.

It’s hard to say what could provoke a general strike in the wider world, but I’m going to guess it would happen in exactly the same way: Not because some political leader called for it, but because a person here and a person there decided they just couldn’t keep doing nothing. And from there, no one would want to be the first person to disrespect those already striking.

and natural disasters related to climate change

It wouldn’t be 2020 if we didn’t also have some natural disasters to report. Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana as a Category 4 storm. (Remember when something like that would lead the news for an entire week?) And wildfires in California forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate. (If I didn’t have Facebook friends in California, I don’t think I’d have noticed.)

and the virus

We’ve had our 6 millionth confirmed case now, but that’s just a number. American deaths are now up to 187K.

A couple of incidents looked like evidence of the Trump administration corrupting the CDC and the FDA. The CDC changed its testing guidelines:

The new guidelines raise the bar on who should get tested, advising that some people without symptoms probably don’t need it — even if they’ve been in close contact with an infected person. Previously, the CDC said viral testing was appropriate for people with recent or suspected exposure, even if they were asymptomatic.

The change literally happened while Dr. Fauci was knocked out; he was having surgery at the time. CNN claims the CDC gave into White House pressure:

A sudden change in federal guidelines on coronavirus testing came this week as a result of pressure from the upper ranks of the Trump administration, a federal health official close to the process tells CNN, and a key White House coronavirus task force member was not part of the meeting when the new guidelines were discussed.

“It’s coming from the top down,” the official said.

The point seems to be to push case-counts down by doing less testing.

Matt Yglesias:

It’s notable that the White House keeps using “it’s okay we had everyone tested” as their explanation for holding various events while simultaneously pressuring the CDC to shut down testing of asymptomatic people in an effort to juke the Covid stats.

Which is to say it’s sometimes hard to know in politics what’s incompetence and what’s malice, but in this case we know that the White House knows the value of frequent testing of non-symptomatic people. They use it all the time and speak publicly about it.

Meanwhile, a planned FDA announcement of approval of convalescent plasma as a treatment for covid-19 got turned into something else.

The White House would upend those plans, turning a preliminary finding of modest efficacy into something much bigger — a presidential announcement of a “major therapeutic breakthrough on the China Virus,” as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany previewed in a tweet late that Saturday night. …

The misrepresentations became a stunning debacle for the FDA, shaking its professional staff to the core and undermining its credibility as it approaches one of the most important and fraught decisions in its history amid a divisive presidential election — deciding when a coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective. Yet again, the president had harnessed the machinery of government to advance his political agenda — with potentially corrosive effects on public trust in government scientists’ handling of the pandemic.

I have to believe that, no matter where the testing is and what the science says, Trump will announce a vaccine before the election. Will that be followed by mass resignations at the FDA? Or will yet another government agency be corrupted?

and the Republican Convention

This got covered in the featured post.

and you also might be interested in …

Actor Chadwick Boseman died Friday at 43 after a long battle with colon cancer. Here’s how good an actor he was: I saw both 42 and Black Panther and never connected that the same guy had the lead in both. I just saw T’Challa on the screen; the thought “Isn’t that Jackie Robinson?” never crossed my mind.

In the current environment, why should Congress be kept informed about whatever Russia might be doing to help Trump get re-elected? Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted:

The [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] has cancelled all further briefings on foreign election interference.  The Administration clearly does not want Congress or the country informed of what Russia is doing. The last DNI was fired for doing so, and the [intelligence community] has now been fully brought to heel.

I had a hard time figuring out what to do with the Falwell sex scandal. It’s salacious and couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, but I try not to encourage my weakness for schadenfreude. So I wondered: Is there anything insightful being written about this?

Fortunately, there was. Slate’s Jeffrey Guhin used this incident as a reason to review the official Catholic meaning of scandal: It isn’t just to have something shameful exposed, but to do spiritual harm to others by demoralizing them religiously.

As Thomas Aquinas put it, to scandalize someone is to cause their spiritual downfall. This is why the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis was a scandal in both senses: not only was it a devastating blow to the reputation of the church, but it also led many to stop believing in the existence of God, or at least in the necessity of the Catholic Church.

So while most people debate whether the sex or Falwell’s hypocrisy is worse, Guhin sees something else:

[S]ociologists like me are interested in scandal because it connects to our social construction of reality, the idea that just about every social thing, when you get down to it, is rooted in beliefs we all work together to maintain. Money’s only money because we say the numbers means something. Voting only counts because a bunch of people agree it should. And while this is largely a collective effort, some people have more power over what we believe than others. For evangelicals, it’s people like the son of Jerry Falwell Sr., the president of Liberty University. And Falwell’s scandal isn’t just a religious scandal—his downfall can cast doubt on religion and broader themes of authority. .. [W]hen these powerful figures scandalize us, we lose our faith in our social world, or in our capacity to govern it.

He connects this idea to the Trump scandals, which are not merely shameful, but are causing the rest of us to lose some of our faith in democracy.

Yet for many, watching Trump and the third or so of the country who will never give up on him has been an experience of ongoing existential anxiety. Was everything we believed about America hopelessly naïve? What if democracy will never actually work?

Like so many conservative grifters, Falwell is managing to fail up. Because Liberty University didn’t want to go through the ordeal of firing him for cause, they owe him a $10.5 million severance package in exchange for his resignation. This is in addition to whatever he may have made off suspicious real estate deals.

If you work for state government and have to deal with sexual harassment, it’s good to know that the state attorney general is there to enforce the law. Unless you work for Alaska, where the AG has been doing the harassing.

Here’s a good example of systemic racism:

Dermatology, the medical specialty devoted to treating diseases of the skin, has a problem with brown and black skin. Though progress has been made in recent years, most textbooks that serve as road maps for diagnosing skin disorders often don’t include images of skin conditions as they appear on people of color.

That’s a glaring omission that can lead to misdiagnoses and unnecessary suffering, because many key characteristics of skin disorders — like red patches and purple blotches — may appear differently on people with different complexions, experts say.

Like a lot of systemic racism, it’s not KKK-style get-those-bastards race hatred. It’s just a presumption that white is normal, and that white problems are the ones that matter. “What about people of color?” just kind of slips the minds of decision-makers.

You think you’ve moved to a sleepy-but-sophisticated Boston suburb, and then there’s a feral pig attack.

and let’s close with something distracting

It’s definitely been a cute-puppies week. Enjoy this husky and 49 other puppy photos.