Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Imaginary Leaders

There are many things I wish I could do for this country, but they are beyond my powers. … But there is one thing I can do: To a large extent, I can take partisan politics out of this struggle, and I’m going to do that right now with this announcement: I will not be a candidate for re-election in November, nor will I endorse any candidate in that election.

– from “The Speech a Great President Would Give Now

This week’s featured posts are “The Speech a Great President Would Give Now” and “My Coronavirus Test“.

This week the virus was almost the only thing to talk about

OK, the numbers: Currently the US has about 340K cases, and 9679 have died. Sometime today we’ll likely cross 10,000 deaths.

One of the ominous things to watch is the percentage of the world toll we represent. When I first started paying attention to those ratios a few weeks ago, we had about 1/15th of the world’s cases and 1/50th of the deaths. Now we’re up to more than 1/4th of cases and almost 1/7th of deaths.

The encouraging news this week is that Italy seems to have passed the top of the curve.

Europe saw further signs of hope in the coronavirus outbreak Sunday as Italy’s daily death toll was at its lowest in more than two weeks and its infection curve was finally on a downward slope. In Spain, new deaths dropped for the third straight day.

Italy, the world leader in deaths-by-country, had 525 deaths in a 24-hour period Sunday. The United States had 1165.

We’re getting some encouraging signs from the earliest-hit American regions, Washington and California.

The virus started in the cities, because people of all sorts (including infected people) pass through cities. But no place is really an island, so the pandemic is also starting to hit rural areas. In some ways it might eventually be worse there, because rural areas don’t have the same medical and emergency infrastructure that larger cities do.

Margaret Renkyl in the NYT notes that a “perfect storm” is gathering in the South:

What does it mean to live though a pandemic in a place with a high number of uninsured citizens, where many counties don’t have a single hospital, and where the governor delayed requiring folks to stay home? Across the South, we are about to find out.

Grist adds a factor to that analysis: environmental hazards. Poor air quality, for example, correlates strongly with respiratory illness in general. John Showalter, chief product officer for health-data company Jvion says:

There’s definitely a biologic rationale that environmental health hazards that lead to pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions would then lead people with those conditions to do poorly during a COVID-19 outbreak.

Louisiana in particular is famous for its oil-and-chemical-industry pollution, but much of the South is also lax in regulating polluters.

New Orleans is already one of the worst-hit places in the country, and (on a per capita basis) so is a county in Georgia.

More people—thirty—had died in Dougherty County, the state’s twenty-seventh most populous county, than anywhere else in Georgia. While Dougherty is served by a well-regarded hospital, nine Georgia counties, most of them also in the southern part of the state, not only lack hospitals but have no practicing physicians at all, according to Monty Veazey, the president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals. Eighteen have no family-practice doctors. Thirty-two have no internal-medicine doctors. Seventy-six counties have no ob-gyn.

Kentucky and Tennessee look almost like a controlled experiment:

Andy Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, urged his citizens not to enter Tennessee: “We have taken very aggressive steps to try to stop or limit the spread of the coronavirus to try to protect our people,” Mr. Beshear said. “But our neighbors from the south, in many instances, are not. If you ultimately go down over that border and go to a restaurant or something that’s not open in Kentucky, what you do is you bring the coronavirus back here.”

Kentucky, which not only elected a Democratic governor but also expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, is an outlier in the South.

Renkyl recalls the March 16 conference call Tennessee Governor Bill Lee had with local officials around the state, when he urged them to pray. The old saying that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is often used cynically to justify grabbing whatever you can get. But if you turn the saying around “The Lord doesn’t help those who refuse to help themselves”, I think it’s pretty sound Christian theology: It’s hard to picture God helping people who could take action on their own, but choose not to.

The Washington Post printed a comprehensive what-went-wrong article.

Nobody quite understands why the virus kills more men than women. But the pattern recurs all over the world.

and how leaders respond

In addition to my fantasy of what a great president would say, we also heard real speeches from the Queen of England, Angela Merkel, and Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota. All of them somehow managed to make statements of hope and determination without insulting anybody, saying anything false, or pushing quack remedies. Governor Walz even told a story he was not the hero of:

The White Bear Lake Pee Wee hockey team was on the road to New Ulm for the state tournament when it was canceled mid-route due to COVID-19.  While the season ended abruptly, the team is still a team– virtually. The players and their parents have started a text chain to check in every night to see how everyone is doing and if anyone needs help.

One evening, a player’s mom shared how she is exhausted from her work as a nurse and is worried about doing her job without personal protective equipment. The next day, the hockey dads cleaned out their supplies of masks at work and in their garage. A big box was left on the nurse’s doorstep with a note that said: “Your hockey family loves you.” It left her in tears. Her hockey family is helping her through this crisis.

Trump is doing his best to undercut the good things Democrats wrote into the $2.2 trillion emergency response act.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act sought to protect workers and families from losing income if they fell sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It gives workers two weeks of paid leave, 12 weeks if their children are home from school or require child care, and reimburses employers with tax credits.

It came with some carveouts, though: The law exempts businesses with over 500 employees, and companies with fewer than 50 employees could ask the Department of Labor for an exemption if they believed the rule could bankrupt them. Nearly 75% of workers are employed by companies with under 50 employees or over 500, according to the New York Times.

Now, the Department of Labor has issued a rule that lets small businesses choose whether to give workers paid sick leave, rather than apply for a waiver.

The act also created a special inspector general to oversee the $500 billion the bill appropriates to aid businesses — partly over concern that Trump will direct money into his own pocket, or use the money to reward friends and punish enemies. The inspector general he nominated comes from his White House counsel staff and was involved in his impeachment defense.

Speaking of inspectors general, Trump continued his post-impeachment purge by firing the intelligence community IG, the one who refused to quash the whistleblower report that led to Trump’s impeachment. In that episode, there is no indication that he did anything other than his job as defined by law.

Meanwhile in the Situation Room, a heated debate broke out between medical people and political appointees who don’t actually know anything and should just shut up. The topic was the untested remedy hydroxychloroquine that Trump has promoted numerous times in the daily briefings.

But what can be expected from an administration where first-son-in-law Jared Kushner has a major role in dealing with a generation-defining crisis? Our lives are in the hands of someone whose sole life accomplishments are to be born rich and marry rich.

Meanwhile, no good deed goes unpunished. Captain Brett Crozier, who drew attention to the coronavirus outbreak on the aircraft carrier he commanded, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was fired. He has also tested positive.

James Fallows:

I should have pointed out that Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy who dismissed Crozier, was in that role because his predecessor, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, was forced out of that job when he resisted Donald Trump’s efforts on behalf of Edward Gallagher, the former Navy SEAL who was prosecuted for war crimes in a court martial.

War criminals do well in this administration. Commanders who try to protect their men, not so much.

Andy Borowitz: “National Incompetence Stockpiles at Full Capacity”.

“The sheer tonnage of failure and impotence that is being dumped into the stockpiles on a daily basis is straining their ability to contain it,” the G.A.O. statement read.

and let’s close with something to pass the time

Music video parodies are among the best things to come out of this pandemic. My favorite so far is Chris Mann’s parody of Madonna’s “Vogue”.

Though there’s a lot to be said for either Mann’s “My Corona” or Brent McCollough’s BeeGees parody “Stayin’ Inside” or Jon Pumper’s “Kokoma” parody “My Corona Home“.

Reality and Public Relations

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled

– Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman
Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle” (1986)
Appendix F. Report of the Rogers Commission

When you have a political movement almost entirely built around assertions that any expert can tell you are false, you have to cultivate an attitude of disdain toward expertise, one that spills over into everything. Once you dismiss people who look at evidence on the effects of tax cuts and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, you’re already primed to dismiss people who look at evidence on disease transmission.

– Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman
Covid-19 Brings Out All the Usual Zombies” (3-28-2020)

This week’s featured post is “How the Economy Restarts“.

This week everybody was talking about spending $2 trillion

After some difficult negotiations, the bill passed the Senate 96-0 and the House by voice vote. It was a striking example of bipartisanship, and yet Trump only invited Republicans to be present for the signing ceremony that officially made it a law.

When a bill is this big and complex, it’s hard to know exactly what’s in it. ABC lists a few of the more prominent measures:

  • Individuals making less that $75K (or couples below $150K) get $1,200 ($2,400), with $500 extra per child.
  • Unemployment benefits are increased, last longer, and apply to more classes of workers.
  • Small businesses who pledge not to lay off workers can get emergency loans, which are forgiven if the workers do indeed keep their jobs.
  • Hospitals and health systems get $100 billion.
  • $500 billion is set aside for loans to big businesses, including $75 billion for airlines and hotels.

I’m sure we’ll find out over the next several months that all kinds of special-interest provisions got inserted.

Former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes makes the obvious comment:

So weird how the Tea Party isn’t rising up in opposition to all this government spending.

Obama’s stimulus proposal was about 1/3 the size of Trump’s, but it had right-wingers talking about revolution. Now they’re silent. It’s almost enough to make you think they had some other reason for not liking Obama.

There was also little bipartisan support then, despite Republican economists virtually all calling for a major stimulus. No Republican House members and only three Republican senators voted for the bill.

Thanks, Malacandra:

“My country and its economy aren’t working for the people.” Tech Support: “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?”

and the virus

First, the numbers: As of this morning, the US had 140,393 cases (compared to 33,018 a week ago) and 2,437 deaths (428 a week ago). We now have more cases than any other country in the world, though our death totals are still behind Italy (10,779), Spain, China, Iran, and France.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is now talking about between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths eventually. In his Sunday briefing, President Trump seemed to accept those numbers and move the goalposts to make them a measure of success. He quoted an estimate of “2.2 million … if we did nothing”, implying that he would take credit for any total less than that.

Wired sorts out the rumor that people shouldn’t take ibuprofen to deal with possible coronavirus fevers.

The ibuprofen furor left researchers and physicians exasperated over the distress it caused people already frightened by the virus, and also for the apparent lack of evidence. … When they’re being cautious about associating phenomena and diseases, epidemiologists will say something represents “correlation, not causation.” In other words, just because two things occurred at the same time doesn’t mean that they’re linked. But to this point, the connection between ibuprofen and severe Covid-19 may not even be a correlation, since no statistical relationship has been found.

One of the mysteries of the pandemic is why different countries have such different death rates.

In Italy, 9.5 percent of the people who have tested positive for the virus have succumbed to covid-19, according to data compiled at Johns Hopkins University. In France, the rate is 4.3 percent. But in Germany, it’s 0.4 percent.

In the US, the fatality rate is around 1.3%. Those numbers would make sense if the Germans had discovered some magic treatment that they wouldn’t share with anybody else, especially the Italians. But that seems not to be the case; nobody has come up with any treatment better than to give people lots of fluids, keep their temperatures down, and help them breathe. Germans also aren’t all that different from other Europeans, either genetically or in lifestyle.

But think about what the fatality rate is: a fraction. It’s the number of deaths divided by the number of cases. The difference seems to be in the denominator, not the numerator: Germany has done a better job than any other country of identifying all the people who are infected.

The biggest reason for the difference, infectious disease experts say, is Germany’s work in the early days of its outbreak to track, test and contain infection clusters. That means Germany has a truer picture of the size of its outbreak than places that test only the obviously symptomatic, most seriously ill or highest-risk patients.

Now consider the implications: If the death rate in the US is really the same as Germany’s, it means that we have three times as many cases as we think we have.

OK, after that thought you deserve some amusement: the Coronavirus Rhapsody.

In the same way that the record of Trump clueless tweets continues to exist, tweets exist that show his “nobody saw this coming” excuse is false. Here’s Senator Murphy (D-CT) on February 5:

Just left the Administration briefing on Coronavirus. Bottom line: they aren’t taking this seriously enough. Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake. Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now.

Last week I told you about an ad that assembles a number of quotes of Trump minimizing the virus. Now the Trump campaign is threatening TV stations that run the ad.

[Y]our failure to remove this deceptive ad … could put your station’s license in jeopardy.

This is how authoritarianism snowballs: What might (in another administration) be a controversial-but-toothless cease-and-desist letter from a campaign is now far more ominous, because Trump freely uses the power of his office for personal benefit. A station owner has to worry that there may be no distance between the Trump campaign and the FCC.

Another example of how authoritarian regimes work: Trump tells governors that they should “be appreciative” of the great job he’s doing, and implies that his administration may stop cooperating with the ones who aren’t.

[Vice President Mike Pence] calls all the governors. I tell him — I mean, I’m a different type of person — I tell him “Don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan. … You know what I say? If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.

The phrase “wasting your time” tells you what Trump thinks his administration should be trying to achieve: “appreciation” for the President. If he’s not going to get that appreciation, then what’s the point of doing his job and saving American lives?

Similarly, the Sunday briefing began with executives from a variety of corporations describing how they’re contributing to the virus-fighting effort — after doing North-Korean-style tributes to the “great leadership” of the President. I get tired of pointing this out, but we can’t let ourselves lose sight of it: This kind of ego-stroking has never happened in any previous administration of either party. Obama would have thrown people out of the room for trying to butter him up so blatantly, but Trump requires it.

and sacrificing lives for the economy

Tuesday, Trump floated the idea of re-opening the economy by Easter, envisioning “packed churches”, though yesterday he backed off and extended the social-distance guidelines until April 30. (More about all that in the featured post.)

His argument at the time was that shutting down the economy was a cure worse than the disease. A number of Trump supporters then came out and said the part Trump merely implied: A higher death toll is a price worth paying for a higher GDP. In an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick put it like this:

No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance for your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in. … I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me — I have 6 grandchildren — that, what we all care about, and what we love more than anything are those children. And I want to live smart and see through this but I don’t want the whole country to be sacrificed.

What’s really perverse about this is that Patrick is also a climate-change denier. So he’s willing to risk death to make a better future for his grandchildren, but not willing to limit fossil fuels. I’ll resolve this paradox with a wild guess: Patrick’s grandchildren are just a rhetorical device here; his true loyalty is to big business.

Eventually, you’d think Republicans would learn: You don’t want to be out in front of Trump, because he’s likely to switch directions and leave you hanging. I’m sure we’ll soon hear that Trump never suggested risking lives to save the economy.

OK, another amusement break: “Stay the F**k At Home” by Bob E. Kelley. (NSFW – duh):

While we’re talking about packed churches: Most of the time, I think we should respect other people’s prerogative to believe whatever they believe, even if it seems like nonsense to us. This wine has become the blood of your god? All the languages of humanity derive from the Tower of Babel? Fine, whatever. As Thomas Jefferson put it: “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

But during a public health emergency, religion can be dangerous. This happened a week ago yesterday in Louisiana:

The Life Tabernacle Church hosted 1,825 people at their Sunday morning service. 26 buses were used to pick people up from around the Baton Rouge area and transport them to Sunday service. … Throughout the service parishioners could be seen touching each other and closely gathering, very few wearing masks or gloves. [Pastor Tony] Spell says if anyone in his congregation contracts covid-19 he will heal them through God.

Another megachurch in Tampa is doing something similar, and likewise promising divine healing. And I’m sure lots of otherwise sensible Christians will find it hard to stay home on Easter Sunday.

Some people look at this from an individualistic point of view and think, “It’s their choice to make. If they’re wrong, they’ll be the ones to suffer from it.” But they won’t be the ONLY ones. As they spread the disease, their friends and family and neighbors and caregivers are also at risk. And when they show up at the ICU, they’ll compete for scarce resources with people who were more careful.

If someone in your life is making the God-will-protect-me argument, remind them of the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4 verses 9-12:

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

I interpret this to mean: It is fine to call on God when you have no way to save yourself. But don’t show off by taking unnecessary risks and creating situations where God needs to save you.

In the same way that Trump is shifting the blame for his own blunders to China, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is shifting blame to New York: Ignore the bad decisions he has made; focus on New York.

Josh Marshall:

The future is FLA Gov. DeSantis today. The governor who left the beaches and almost all commerce open as the virus spread like wildfire across the country is now blaming his state’s outbreak on New York and New Yorkers fleeing to Florida. This is the new political message.

Trump’s briefing yesterday was a festival of blame-shifting and excuse making: He doesn’t admit that the US has the most coronavirus cases, because China is lying. There’s no shortage of ventilators, hospitals are hoarding them. There are plenty of masks available, but someone is stealing them.

And as I noted above, he’s also moving the goalposts: 2.2 million Americans would die if the government did nothing, so 200K deaths would be evidence that he has done a great job!

Watch: If anybody at all is still alive by November, Trump will expect them to thank him.

Friday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey denied the need to issue a shelter-in-place order, saying:

We are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California. And right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place.

Next door in Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves’s executive order undid any local order that interfered with

airports, medical and healthcare facilities, retail shopping including grocery and department stores, offices, factories and other manufacturing facilities or any Essential Business or Operation as determined by and identified below.

The Jackson Free Press reports:

One of the immediate consequences of Reeves’ order is the formal declaration that most of Mississippi’s businesses qualify under it as “essential,” and thus are exempt from restrictions on public gatherings. As of press time, the Jackson Free Press has received reports from businesses in the Jackson area that have, as of today’s executive order, scuttled plans for work-from-home and ordered their employees back to work on-site.

Also included among essential services in the executive order were religious facilities, just days after the Mississippi State Department of Health told Mississippians to skip churches, weddings and funerals to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Up until now, it’s been possible for Trump’s base to imagine that COVID-19 is a Blue America problem: New York, California, Washington, and other liberal places. When a red state like Louisiana does get hit, the epicenter is a cosmopolitan city like New Orleans.

So if you’ve been sitting in Little Town, USA and watching Fox News, the whole crisis probably seems overblown. I think that’s about to change. Viruses are a lot like fashions; they hit the big cities first, but they make it everywhere eventually. States and towns that wait to take action until the problem is local and serious will regret the delay.

and you also might be interested in …

I keep hearing people ask where Joe Biden is. And physically the answer is that he’s at home in Wilmington, doing what we all should be doing.

Of course, what people are really asking is why he isn’t on their TVs, providing a counterpoint to Trump’s incessant nonsense. And the answer to that is that he’s giving interviews and telling people what a real president would do in this situation, but it’s almost impossible for him to break into the news cycle.

Think about it: He doesn’t have any current office, so he can’t announce an action, like Governor Cuomo does nearly every day. Primaries keep getting cancelled, so he can’t win them. He can’t hold rallies. Just about anything he says from Wilmington leads editors and producers to ask “Why is this news?”

Now, of course, if Trump were in this position, he would have no trouble making news. He’d do it by being an ignorant asshole: crudely insulting someone who did nothing to deserve it, saying something provably wrong or bigoted, or violating political norms in some other way. And the same thing could work for Biden as well — he could call Mike Pence a faggot or something; that would make news — but it would also break the brand he’s running on.

Lots of people (including me) have been wondering how to safely bring home food that has been handled by other people, either in the grocery or at a take-out restaurant. Here’s one healthcare professional’s response.

Interesting lecture Heather Cox Richardson gave in 2018 on “How the Gilded Age Created the Progressive Era“.

It looks for all intents and purposes in 1890, 1893, 1894 that the Gilded Age is here to stay, that a few rich guys are going to run everything. They have gamed the system. They’ve stolen a presidential seat. They’ve changed the mechanics so that you can’t possibly ever take the Senate again. They’ve gamed the census, so that they’re doing all the counting. And then when even still it looks bad, they’ve packed the Supreme Court for eternity. And the Supreme Court is handing down idiotic decisions, all of which have been either overturned or modified since then. …

So it looks like it’s time for everyone to pack up and go home.

And yet things changed. And it’s somewhat embarrassing for a non-violent history professor to admit how big a role assassinating President McKinley played.

Curly Neal, arguably the greatest dribbler in basketball history, died this week at 77. The Harlem Globetrotters assembled this collection of highlights in honor of his 74th birthday.

and let’s close with some suggestions for the housebound

Oddly relevant again is the Statler Brothers’ “Flowers on the Wall” from 1966. Don’t tell me I’ve nothing to do.

Days Are Numbers

Days are numbers, watch the stars.
We can only see so far.
Someday, you’ll know where you are.

– The Alan Parsons Project, “The Traveller

This week’s featured post is “Economies Aren’t Built to Stop and Restart“.

This week everybody was talking about life at home

Like much of the country, lately I’ve been much more housebound than I’m used to. I’m not in any kind of strict quarantine, because everybody I live with seems healthy. (Thank you for asking.) But like the hunters of old, these days I mainly go out to acquire food. (Is it my imagination, or are there more men in the supermarkets than there used to be? Maybe the viral threat makes shopping feel manlier than it used to.)

I also walk the dog in the morning, though I’m starting to feel guilty about it. Allergies I’ve had for years leave me congested in the mornings, so I spend much of my morning walk coughing and clearing my throat. This didn’t used to be a concern, but now I feel sorry for anyone within earshot. (“Authorized distributor of the Fear of God [TM]. Enjoy your free sample!”)

Another thing I’ve noticed: Having all my regular activities canceled makes it hard to keep track of what day it is. For example, Wednesday was our 36th wedding anniversary, but neither my wife nor I figured that out until the afternoon. That experience reminded me of the Alan Parsons song that gives this post its title. When you’re traveling, sometimes you get into a state where it’s not Thursday, it’s the tenth day of the trip, or the second day in Savannah, or the third day before you go home. Days become numbers; someone says “Tuesday” and you have to think for a few seconds about what that means.

Strangely, not being able to travel at all is making me feel the same way. So if some week the Sift doesn’t appear on schedule, don’t jump to the conclusion that something has happened to me. I may just have forgotten that it’s Monday.

Sadly, though, not everyone is getting into the spirit of social distancing. Wednesday evening I went to our favorite local bar/restaurant to pick up take-out — anniversary celebration! — hoping that they’ll get enough business to still be there when we start eating out again. A group of people in running gear were having a tailgate party in the parking lot. Basically, they were just moving the bar scene outdoors. They were in the prime of life and looked very healthy, so they probably believe their risk is low.

And maybe it is. (Maybe.) But the paradox of social distancing is that it’s not about each of us as individuals, it’s about trying to do right by the other people in our lives, and right by the human herd in general. We stay away from others because we care about them.

and the continued spread of the virus

As of this morning, there were 33,018 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States (compared to 3602 last Monday and 564 two weeks ago) and 428 deaths (compared to 66 and 22).

It’s hard to know what to make of these numbers. Part of the rise undoubtedly reflects the spread of the disease, but part is due to the fact that we’re finally testing people in large numbers; we’re finding new cases, but we’re also discovering cases that were hidden last week. And since we’re still rolling out social distancing, it won’t bend the curve for at least another week or two.

So perversely, things may actually be starting to get better at a time when our numbers are looking worse. I’ll bet that social distancing actually works. It’s not going to fix everything, but the real curve will start to bend away from exponential growth by next week or the week after. The apparent curve will probably still be exponential next week, because of the increase in testing.

Thursday, Italy passed China for having the most COVID-19 deaths. Currently, we’re on the Italy track, about a week or two behind. We’re also about four times the size of Italy. So if the curve doesn’t bend soon, it’s possible that eventually the country with the most deaths will be the United States.

Here’s the coolest thing I heard this week:

Earlier this month, a group of more than 300 engineers, designers, doctors, nurses and others came together on Facebook to work on the Open Source Ventilator project.

In seven days they came up with a prototype for a ventilator that can be assembled from bio-plastics and manufactured with 3-D printers. The Irish engineer Colin Keogh says that Ireland’s Health Services will review the prototype next week with the goal of making it available to coronavirus patients.

Or maybe it was this: Engineers at the University of Minnesota are going “full-on MacGyver” against the ventilator shortage. In a feasibility test, a prototype made from $150 of parts, a motor ripped out of something else, and a red toolbox base kept a pig alive for an hour.

Friday, the FDA approved a new test that can detect coronavirus in as little as 45 minutes. This opens the possibility of quickly sorting the COVID-19 sick from the ordinary sick, who could safely go home and recover in the usual way.

Speaking as someone cooped up with four other people, the terror is in not knowing. If one of us spikes a fever, we will suffer simultaneous urges to take care of each other and stay away from each other. What a relief it would be to determine quickly that this was just a cold or the ordinary flu.

We’ll see how quickly this can be deployed.

Those of us going through our first plague might have some things to learn from the gay community.

This video was made by Kenneth, who I know through Unitarian Universalist circles. It appeared on his YouTube channel Common Hawthorn, which focuses on his interest in Tarot. But this particular piece is only tangentially about Tarot; it primarily discusses (in a very matter-of-fact way) the reality of death and the need for people to care for each other.

Before this pandemic is over, we’re all going to know someone who died from it, and possibly far more than one. We may, at some point, fear for our own lives. Those are difficult ideas to wrap your mind around, but gay men who lived through the 1980s had to get used to them.


and the government’s public-health response

This week the strain on the hospitals began to show, particularly in New York and Washington state. At the state and local level, we keep hearing about shortages of ventilators, hospital beds, and protective gear for healthcare workers. At the federal level, we hear a lot of happy talk about how well things are going.

and its economic response

I discuss this in the featured post. Minutes ago, Vox’ Dylan Matthews outlined the five major disagreements that are holding up the stimulus/bailout bill.

and we need to think yet again about how to handle Trump

Rachel Maddow gave examples of happy announcements Trump has made at recent press conferences, which then turned out not to be true:

  • A malaria drug has been shown to be effective against COVID-19 and will be available “almost immediately”.
  • The virus is “well contained” and “under control” and “is going to disappear”.
  • 1.4 million tests would be available this week.
  • Google is developing a web site to help people decide whether they needed testing and where to get it — it will be “quickly done”.
  • The Navy is deploying two medical ships to virus-hit coasts in the next week or so.
  • The government has massive amounts of ventilators.
  • The government has ordered 500 million N95 masks.

All false, or so grossly misleading that they would be better ignored than believed. (The order for 500 million masks is real, but will take 18 months to fill, something Trump neglected to mention. Any health professionals who are counting on receiving those masks in time to make a difference have been misled.) She concluded:

There is a clear pattern here in this crisis, of the President promising stuff that he knows America would love to hear, but it’s not true. … We should inoculate ourselves against the harmful impact of these ongoing false promises and false statements by the President by recognizing that when he is talking about the coronavirus epidemic, more often than not, he is lying. … I would stop putting those briefings on live TV. Not out of spite, but because it’s misinformation. If the President does end up saying anything true, you can run it as tape. But if he keeps lying like he has been every day on stuff this important, we should (all of us) stop broadcasting it. Honestly, it’s going to cost lives.

Washington Post columnists Margaret Sullivan and Michael Gerson agree. Sullivan reviews the same false claims as Maddow, then concludes:

The news media, at this dangerous and unprecedented moment in world history, must put the highest priority on getting truthful information to the public.

Taking Trump’s press conferences as a live feed works against that core purpose.

Gerson is a never-Trump Republican, who waxes wistful about the missed chance to impeach Trump. That would have given us President Pence, who “is no Franklin D. Roosevelt, but … possesses the type of qualities one might find in an effective governor facing a hurricane.”

The point here is not simply to condemn Trump, which has limited usefulness in the midst of a national crisis. At this point it is perhaps better to ignore him, which is precisely what governors and mayors across the country are doing to good effect.

Jay Rosen offers a sample emergency declaration for a news organization:

On everything that involves the coronavirus Donald Trump’s public statements have been unreliable. And that is why today we announce that we are shifting our coverage of the President to an emergency setting. … Switching to emergency mode means our coverage will look different and work in a different way, as we try to prevent the President from misinforming you through us. …

Refusing to go with live coverage. Suspending normal relations with his White House. Always asking: is this something we should amplify? A focus on what he’s doing, not on what he’s saying. The truth sandwich when we feel we have to highlight his false claims. This is what you can expect now that our coverage has been switched to an emergency setting.

American Bridge 21st Century uses Trump’s false claims in a damaging ad:

This brings up something I’ve been scratching my head over for a while: Some of Trump’s thought processes make sense to me, but the aspect I can never grasp is his extreme short-sightedness.

If I were President of the United States right now, I hope I would worry primarily about saving lives, with my political future a distant second. But even when I thought about politics, what would grab my attention would not be the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market, or the unemployment numbers, or even the daily numbers of cases or deaths. What would scare me politically is the possibility of presiding over the country with the most total COVID-19 deaths. If that happens, it will happen well before November, and there will be no way to spin it.

So even when I was being totally self-centered and partisan, I’d keep asking one question: How many Americans will die by November? Purely for my own political survival, that’s the number I would be trying to keep down.

But Trump seems not to be focused on that number, and I can’t grasp why not.

and the Democratic primary race

Last week I started saying that it’s over. After this week’s primaries, it clearly is. Biden now leads Sanders in the delegate race 1201-896, with 1991 needed to have a majority at the Democratic Convention. The RealClearPolitics polling average now shows Biden ahead of Sanders nationally 55.5%-36.2%.

At this point, Sanders needs to start thinking about the role he will play in the general-election campaign, and what he can do to make sure Trump is not re-elected. He certainly has the right to stay in the race, get as many delegates as he can, and try to influence the platform Biden will run on, if that’s what he thinks is best. But any negative campaigning against Biden needs to stop. He’s going to be the nominee, and smearing him is Trump’s job now.

Tulsi Gabbard dropped out of the race Thursday morning, leaving Biden and Sanders as the only active Democratic candidates. She said this about Joe Biden:

I know Vice President Biden and his wife and am grateful to have called his son Beau a friend who also served in the National Guard. Although I may not agree with the Vice President on every issue, I know that he has a good heart and is motivated by his love for our country and the American people. I’m confident that he will lead our country guided by the spirit of aloha — respect and compassion — and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart.

So today, I’m suspending my presidential campaign, and offering my full support to Vice President Joe Biden in his quest to bring our country together.

All the speculation (including my own) that Gabbard was planning to run a third-party spoiler campaign in the fall was clearly off base. I still think Hillary Clinton was not wrong that the Russians were hoping she would, and I believe that Russia is probably still hoping to boost a candidate to split the anti-Trump vote. But whatever Putin might have in mind, Gabbard is clearly not in on it.

and you also might be interested in …

In normal times, I could imagine the Senate’s insider-trading scandal being the week’s top story. The center of the story is Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. On February 7, Burr was upbeat about the country’s ability to deal with coronavirus:

No matter the outbreak or threat, Congress and the federal government have been vigilant in identifying gaps in its readiness efforts and improving its response capabilities.

The public health preparedness and response framework that Congress has put in place and that the Trump Administration is actively implementing today is helping to protect Americans. Over the years, this framework has been designed to be flexible and innovative so that we are not only ready to face the coronavirus today but new public health threats in the future.

But a few weeks later, on February 27, without warning the general public that he had been too optimistic, he painted a much more dire picture to his donors. He compared COVID-19 to the 1918 influenza, and predicted school closures and the need for military hospital ships and field hospitals to supplement the local health infrastructure.

And he was selling stock.

Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions. … A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline and has lost about 30% since.

… His biggest sales included companies that are among the most vulnerable to an economic slowdown. He dumped up to $150,000 worth of shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, a chain based in the United States that has lost two-thirds of its value. And he sold up to $100,000 of shares of Extended Stay America, an economy hospitality chain. Shares of that company are now worth less than half of what they did at the time Burr sold.

Four other senators have since come under similar scrutiny.

Burr should hardly be singled out. Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California have also sold significant amounts of stocks in recent months.

However, some of those transactions are less troubling than others. Loeffler’s case seems the most serious.

For Loeffler, the sell-off of between $1.3 million and $3.1 million worth of stock she owned with her husband came starting on January 24, the same day the Senate Health Committee hosted an all-members briefing on the coronavirus (Loeffler sits on the committee). Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the chair of the New York Stock Exchange.

She also bought shares in Citrix, a teleworking company likely to do well in the new environment.

Lachlan Markay, the Daily Beast reporter who broke the Loeffler story, is less disturbed by the other senators’ transactions: Inhofe started selling before he got a private coronavirus briefing. Johnson “sold a $5M-25M stake in his brother’s privately held company on March 2, well after the general public was aware of COVID-19.” And Feinstein’s sale “is clearly innocuous as well. In fact, her husband’s $1M-5M sale of shares in biopharma company Allogene actually came at a low-point in its stock value, as noted by Barron’s a few weeks ago.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using the public health emergency to stay in power, using maneuvers that some have called a “coup”.

A new Parliament was sworn in last week, but among the key votes Mr. Edelstein [a Netanyahu ally] has prevented is one on replacing him as speaker. … Though his right-wing-religious alliance narrowly lost this month’s election, the prime minister is reluctant to give up his bloc’s control of Parliament.

But Israel’s highest court has ordered the vote to proceed by Wednesday, a move which Netanyahu’s supporters have called a coup by the court.

Meanwhile, the Justice Minister appointed by Netanyahu has postponed Netanyahu’s trial on three corruption charges. The postponement is for two months, and is also an “emergency” measure that is supposed to prevent the spread of the virus.

and let’s close with some history

Back in 2013, Pentatonix performed “The Evolution of Music“.

More recently, the Y-Studs a cappella group did their own version of “The Evolution of Jewish Music“.

Frank and Bold

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.

– President Franklin Roosevelt
First Inaugural Address (3-4-1933)

This week’s featured post is “Interesting (but not necessarily important) Questions and Answers about the Pandemic“.

This week everybody was talking about the continued spread of COVID-19

Last Monday, I reported that the US had 564 confirmed coronavirus cases and had suffered 22 deaths. Today, the latest numbers I can find are 3602 cases and 66 deaths. If you just look at those raw numbers and imagine that everything stops here, it wouldn’t be a crisis worth the response it’s getting. But if you look at the trajectory — deaths tripling in a week and cases up more than six times — you begin to understand.

But since we have a continuing shortage of testing kits, the number of cases is suspect. Everyone believes the number is higher, and some experts believe it is MUCH higher.

Like Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton:

“Just the fact of community spread, says that at least 1 percent, at the very least, 1 percent of our population is carrying this virus in Ohio today,” Acton said. “We have 11.7 million people. So the math is over 100,000.”

And Johns Hopkins Professor Marty Makary:

“Don’t believe the numbers when you see, even on our Johns Hopkins website, that 1,600 Americans have the virus,” he said. “No, that means 1,600 got the test, tested positive. There are probably 25 to 50 people who have the virus for every one person who is confirmed.”

He added: “I think we have between 50,000 and half a million cases right now walking around in the United States.”

As he has been doing regularly for some time now, Vice President Pence promised yesterday that millions of test kits are going to be available very soon. Tests from WHO were available by the end of February, but the US decided not to use them. So the virus got a 2-3 week head start.

The public discussion of COVID-19 sounds very different if your immune system isn’t in good shape.

When news of COVID-19 started to spread, there were two popular responses. The first was to rush to the store, buying N95 masks and hand sanitizer until shelves were bare. The second was to shrug and comfort the masses because mostly immunocompromised people—people like me—would die.

Trump officially declared a state of emergency on Friday, but he continues to lag behind the pace of the virus. Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on Trump to make a national policy for closing businesses.

When one state unilaterally closes businesses, people typically cross state lines to look for open businesses elsewhere. If the purpose is to keep our citizens home and out of crowded spaces, such inconsistency in state policies is counterproductive. There should be a uniform federal standard for when cities and states should shut down commerce and schools, or cancel events.

And he asked for the Army to help outfit temporary hospitals that will be necessary when our current hospitals are full.

States cannot build more hospitals, acquire ventilators or modify facilities quickly enough. At this point, our best hope is to utilize the Army Corps of Engineers to leverage its expertise, equipment and people power to retrofit and equip existing facilities — like military bases or college dormitories — to serve as temporary medical centers. Then we can designate existing hospital beds for the acutely ill.

Additional hospital beds aren’t necessary yet. But if we wait until they are, it will be too late.

and canceling everything

A week ago social distancing was an idea that some of us were starting to take seriously and some of us weren’t. This week the places you might have been planning to go began to close: first the NBA, and then March Madness and just about all the other sporting events. Then Broadway theaters, conferences, meetings of more than X people, schools, and so on.

Yesterday, the governor of my state, Massachusetts, closed the schools, stopped restaurants from serving anything but take-out, and banned gatherings of more than 25 people. Similar orders were given by governors of several states, like Ohio and Illinois.

My church “met” virtually over the internet yesterday. When my town held an election Saturday, the monitors sat behind two tables rather than one and pointed to a ballot rather than handing it to me. People waiting to vote were instructed to stay six feet apart.

Nothing symbolizes France more than the cafes. But Prime Minister Édouard Philippe just closed them all. BBC reports:

In Spain, people are banned from leaving home except for buying essential supplies and medicines, or for work. … Italy, which has recorded more than 1,440 deaths, began a nationwide lockdown [last] Monday.

CNBC’s Jim Cramer pointed out an important difference between how the pandemic is hitting factory workers and professionals: “You can’t build an airliner at home.”

An article from August that is even more relevant now: Andy Borowitz displayed a picture of Donald Trump under the headline “Unskilled Man Fears He Will Lose Job in Recession“.

and the Democratic nomination

The big question after Biden’s wins Tuesday in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, and Idaho was: Is it over?

Yeah, it kind of is. 538’s model now rates Biden’s chances of being nominated above 99%. His delegate lead is not prohibitive in itself. (NPR’s delegate tracker shows Biden with 890 to Sanders’ 736, with 1991 needed.) But he also leads in the four large states voting tomorrow.

Biden has a 38 percentage-point advantage over Sanders in Florida — at 65 percent to 27 percent — according to a Gravis Marketing survey released last Friday. … Biden also leads Sanders in Illinois by 21 percentage points, according to an Emerson poll; by 22 points in Ohio, according to an Emerson survey; and by 17 points in Arizona, according to a Univision/ASU poll.

With California already in the books, it’s hard to see where Sanders turns this around. He needed a knock-out in the one-on-one debate last night, and he did not appear to get one.

For what it’s worth, my take on the debate was that both candidates showed a command of the situation far beyond our current president. Biden’s headline-making pledge to select a woman as VP left me with a well-duh response. Of course a male Democratic nominee will need a female VP.

The Sanders supporters who keep implying Biden suffers from dementia need to stop. He fumbled some words (as did Sanders), but looked plenty sharp Sunday night.

and the economic fallout

When I watched Trump’s press conference Friday, the Fed had just announced it was cutting interest rates to zero. Trump thought this was fabulous news. (“I think people in the market should be very happy.”) I thought it looked like panic. Somebody at the Fed must have just seen some truly scary projections about economic activity.

Apparently, I’m a more typical investor than Trump is. This morning the Dow is down around 2000 points, wiping out all the gains from Friday.

One of the things I find most puzzling in Trump’s thought process is how short-term it is. He really cares about the hour-to-hour swings in the market, and tries to influence them. But if he says something misleading that gets a rise on Friday, by Monday everybody knows and the market goes the other way. So what was accomplished?

Ditto for the way he’s been slow-walking the news about the virus. If all this were happening in late October, I could see the sense (but not the morality) of trying to happy-talk people past the election. But by November we’ll all know how this came out. Some number of people will be dead, and we’ll all know what that number is. What’s the point of trying to massage our expectations?

This isn’t a partisan thing; it’s Trump. All other presidents of either party have asked themselves “How do I make things come out right?” Trump asks: “How do I keep my illusions going for a little longer?”

I don’t take responsibility at all” was said in response to a very specific issue (the delay in virus-testing), but it’s going to be the epitaph of the entire Trump administration. When the definitive history of this period is written, that will be the title.

The House and Secretary Mnuchin agreed on an aid package to help people who are victims of either the coronavirus or of the economic contraction it is causing. The Senate will take up the bill this week, after taking a long weekend off. The Senate’s lack of urgency is a bit disturbing.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a statement that he hopes the Senate “will approach this with a level head and pass a bill that does more good than harm — or, if it won’t, pass nothing at all.”

Let it never be said that I will turn down a good idea just because it comes from Ted Cruz:

If you can buy a gift certificate from a local small business—a restaurant or a toy store or a hair salon—now is a good time to do so. Small acts of kindness, of love in our communities, repeated a million times over, that’s how we will make it through together.

and you also might be interested in …

The world doesn’t stop just because we’re preoccupied with something else.

Putin in January unveiled a major shake-up of Russian politics and a constitutional overhaul, which the Kremlin billed as a redistribution of power from the presidency to parliament.

But Putin, 67, who has dominated Russia’s political landscape for two decades as either president or prime minister, made a dramatic appearance in parliament on Tuesday to back a new amendment that would allow him to ignore a current constitutional ban on him running again in 2024.

Speaking of Putin, Trump says he’s “strongly considering” pardoning Michael Flynn. Pardons are the final stage in Trump’s obstruction of justice regarding his Russia connection. The two big questions in my mind at the start of the Mueller investigation were (1) Why did so many Trump campaign people have so many interactions with Russians? and (2) Why did they all lie when they were asked about it?

We never got answers.

and let’s close with something adorable

There appears to be an empty bucket right over there, but all six puppies want to be in the same bucket. Be sure to watch all the way to the big finish.

Dismal Calamities

I now began to consider seriously with myself concerning my own case, and how I should dispose of myself; that is to say, whether I should resolve to stay in London or shut up my house and flee, as many of my neighbours did. I have set this particular down so fully, because I know not but it may be of moment to those who come after me, if they come to be brought to the same distress, and to the same manner of making their choice; and therefore I desire this account may pass with them rather for a direction to themselves to act by than a history of my actings, seeing it may not be of one farthing value to them to note what became of me.

I had two important things before me: the one was the carrying on my business and shop, which was considerable, and in which was embarked all my effects in the world; and the other was the preservation of my life in so dismal a calamity as I saw apparently was coming upon the whole city, and which, however great it was, my fears perhaps, as well as other people’s, represented to be much greater than it could be.

– Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

This week’s featured post is “Coronavirus Reaches My Town, and other notes“.

This week everybody was talking about Joe Biden

It’s hard to remember that just two weeks ago, the talking heads were saying that Super Tuesday might give Bernie Sanders an insurmountable lead in the delegate count. The splintered field of his opponents might be able to deny him a first-ballot victory, but none would get close enough to claim that they deserved the nomination instead.

Then South Carolina happened. Joe Biden won big, particularly among black voters (who hadn’t been a big factor in the previous contests). Then Tom Steyer dropped out of the race. Then Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. (Trevor Noah: “We all know that once a gay guy sets a trend, white women won’t be far behind.”)

The ground seemed to be shifting, but it still looked like Sanders would come out of Super Tuesday with a delegate lead, though maybe not an insurmountable one.

And then it was Super Tuesday. And while Sanders did win the California primary (or so we think, the final results are still not in), Biden swept the South by such large margins (and also won in Minnesota and Massachusetts) that he became the delegate leader. That caused Mike Bloomberg to withdraw and endorse Biden. Then Elizabeth Warren (who I voted for) also dropped out. (More about her below.)

Tomorrow is another round of primaries, with basically two candidates rather than half a dozen, and now the talking heads are wondering if Biden will emerge with an insurmountable lead.

I’m thinking we should maybe wait and see. A series of unlikely things just happened bang-bang-bang, so I’m reluctant to assume that everything will settle down and be predictable from here on.

The analysis of Michigan (which votes tomorrow, along with Mississippi, Missouri, Washington state, North Dakota, and Idaho) is particularly interesting: Sanders narrowly won Michigan over Hillary Clinton in 2016, a surprise victory that kept his campaign going at a time when things were beginning to look hopeless.

He won then on the strength of his support from white working-class voters, particularly rural and small-town ones. But something has happened to that support between 2016 and 2020.

Mr. Sanders has so far failed to match his 2016 strength across the white, working-class North this year, and that suggests it will be hard for him to win Michigan.

This pattern has held without exception this primary season. It was true in Iowa and New Hampshire against Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. It was true in Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts and even Vermont on Super Tuesday against Mr. Biden.

Over all, Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Sanders by 10 points, 38 percent to 28 percent, in counties across Maine, Minnesota and Massachusetts where white voters made up at least 80 percent of the electorate and where college graduates represented less than 40 percent of the electorate.

One possibility: Sanders’ 2016 support was more anti-Hillary than pro-Bernie. And that raises the question: Did traditionally minded voters support a man over a woman, without ever enlisting in the progressive movement?

Meanwhile, let’s think about what did happen on Super Tuesday. My social media feed includes a lot of Sanders supporters, who were quick to see a DNC conspiracy behind Biden’s resurgence. I’m seeing a lot of “The DNC is screwing up the same way it did in 2016” posts.

However, it’s hard for me to see what the DNC has to do with anything. The candidates all did sensible candidate-like things: They dropped out after a major defeat left them without a viable path to their goal, and they endorsed the remaining candidate whose policies best matched the ones they’d been running on.

The real authors of these surprising two weeks have been the voters. Attributing Biden’s surge to “the DNC” or “the billionaire class” simply ignores the millions of people who voted for him. It’s especially disturbing given that Biden’s vote totals were driven largely by black voters, who have been disenfranchised and depersonalized often enough in American history, without liberals doing it again now. Michael Harriot at The Root is just not having it.

Sanders’ political failings are his own, and black people are not here to channel the political yearnings of white progressives. We are not here to carry your water or clean up your mess.

Blaming the DNC also allows the progressive movement to put aside a bunch of challenging questions, like: Why aren’t more voters attracted to progressive proposals that are intended to benefit them? Does the movement need to change those policies? Or the messaging around those policies? Or the kinds of candidates the movement puts forward?

Why did black voters in particular flock to Biden? Why didn’t the young voters Bernie has been counting on show up in the numbers he expected? What does that say about the case for Bernie beating Trump in November if he does get the nomination?

Ezra Klein makes a good point: Persuading former rivals to unite around you is precisely the kind of skill presidents need.

The work of the president requires convincing legislators in your party to support your agenda, sometimes at the cost of your political or policy ambitions. If Sanders and his team don’t figure out how to do it, they could very well lose to Biden, and even if they win, they’ll be unable to govern.

Persuading the Amy Klobuchars of the world to support you, even when they know it’s a risk, is exactly what the president needs to do to pass bills, whether that’s a Green New Deal or Medicare-for-all or just an infrastructure package. Biden, for all his weak debate performances and meandering speeches, is showing he still has that legislator’s touch. That he can unite the party around him, and convince even moderate Democrats to support a liberal agenda, is literally the case for his candidacy.

Sanders hasn’t demonstrated that same skill over the course of this primary, or his career. Worse, his most enthusiastic supporters treat that kind of transactional politicking with contempt. Senators like Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren, who co-sponsored Sanders’s Medicare-for-all bill but quibbled with details or wanted to soften sections, were treated not as allies to cultivate but as traitors to exile.

We’re in the season where people try to construct their dream ticket, usually without thinking about whether the two people actually get along. So what about Biden/Sanders or Sanders/Warren or Biden/Klobuchar or Biden/Buttigieg or some other combination of candidates?

I’ve been saying from the beginning that the ticket needs to be integrated by gender and race, and that seems more important than ever now that it has come down to two old white men. Either Sanders or Biden would lucky to get Michelle Obama to take the VP slot, though I don’t think she will. Either Kamala Harris or Stacey Abrams would make a good Biden VP. Harris is probably too moderate for Bernie, but Abrams could work. I’m having trouble coming up with Hispanic options; AOC is not old enough to be eligible.

When Drew Millard went looking for a Democratic-establishment Biden voter to interview, he didn’t have to look far: His Dad, who chairs his county’s Democratic Party, and didn’t care for being cast as the Establishment. “That irritates the crap out of me, I gotta be honest.” But his account is interesting:

As soon as Biden won South Carolina, I knew exactly what I had to do: I had to vote for Joe on Super Tuesday. Nobody called me, I didn’t get together and plot anything, I just knew in my gut I had to do that. Everybody I heard from in the next day or so said the exact same thing. I do believe that’s what happened in all those states. Because at some point we’ve gotta settle on somebody.

and the virus

See the featured article.

and Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s exit from the campaign was a sad day for me and for a lot of the people I know. (We’re in that educated-white-liberal demographic that is her base. We believe in facts, and we like people who are really smart.) Women particularly took it hard, because it will be at least another four years before we have the first woman president. And if both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren weren’t good enough, what’s it going to take?

It’s hard to look at that diverse collection of qualified candidates we had a year ago, and conclude that merit alone winnowed it down to the two septuagenarian straight white guys. (John Hickenlooper is a straight white guy, but at 68, he still missed the cut.)

But since we’re the educated white liberal demographic, our pain seldom goes unexpressed. Here are a few well-written articles:

  • Warren’s Loss Hurts. Let Women Grieve.” by Versa Sharma in Now This. “And here’s the key: the default lens through much of our news and media is filtered through a very male point of view. That determines what issues are elevated, which candidates get the most coverage, who is presented and understood to be a viable candidate, all based on conscious and unconscious biases.”
  • America Punished Elizabeth Warren for her Competence” by Megan Garber in The Atlantic. “To run for president is to endure a series of controlled humiliations. … The accusation of condescension, however, is less about enforced humiliation than it is about enforced humility. It cannot be disentangled from Warren’s gender. The paradox is subtle, but punishing all the same: The harder she works to prove to the public that she is worthy of power—the more evidence she offers of her competence—the more ‘condescending,’ allegedly, she becomes. And the more that other anxious quality, likability, will be called into question.”
  • Let’s Face It, America: We Didn’t Deserve Elizabeth Warren.” by Amanda Marcotte: “Americans apparently couldn’t see that she is a once-in-a-generation talent and reward her for it with the presidency. That is a shameful blight on us. She wrecked Bloomberg in the debate and, in the process, may well have spared us from seeing a presidential election purchased by a billionaire. We responded as we so often do for women who go above the call of duty: We thanked her for her service and promoted less qualified men above her.
    “This feels personal to women, and it should. The same forces that pushed Warren out of the race — such as asking her to do the work of figuring out how to finance Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, and then criticizing her for it while he skated by on generalities — offer a microcosm of how we treat women generally, and the reasons why women work so hard both at home and on the job yet make less money.”

Finally, watch the interview Warren did with Rachel Maddow right after dropping out.

Politics in the Trump Era is a series of disillusionments. Trump’s victory blew up my belief in the Power of Truth. No American politician has ever spat on Truth as contemptuously as Trump, and here he is. And now Warren’s defeat emphasizes  that you can’t get to be president — or even make it to the Democratic convention — by caring about people and figuring out how to solve their problems. We prefer men who don’t have a plan for that.

and you also might be interested in …

In Tuesday’s Washington Post Daniel Drezner said what I’ve been thinking about the Trump regime’s deal with the Taliban:

Pretty much everything Trump’s critics say about this deal is correct. It probably will not hold. It throws a regional allied government under the bus. It shreds America’s reputation and credibility. The thing is, Trump has already done all of this for the past three years — not just in Afghanistan but in Europe, Asia and the rest of the greater Middle East. The United States has paid the price of the disaster that is Donald Trump’s diplomacy. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to accrue some of the benefits — like extricating the country from a generation-long morass.

The race for Alabama’s Republican Senate nomination (to challenge incumbent Democrat Doug Jones) demonstrates how far the Republican Party has devolved into a personality cult. Jeff Sessions, who held the seat before getting appointed as Trump’s first attorney general, is in a runoff with football coach Tommy Tuberville after Tuberville narrowly outpolled Sessions 32%-31% in Tuesday’s primary.

Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy in 2016. And in any policy sense, Sessions is a Trumpist. He was, in fact, a Trumpist before Trump was.

The primary in Alabama was a humbling experience for Mr. Sessions, who was treated as a castoff by the Republican Party he helped transform by championing a more nationalistic, anti-immigration, anti-free trade agenda years before Mr. Trump ran for office sounding those themes.

But as attorney general, he followed Justice Department rules and recused himself from overseeing an investigation he was too closely connected with: the probe into the Trump campaign’s illicit relationship with Russia. Trump wanted Sessions to obstruct justice, and Sessions refused. Trump has never forgiven Sessions for this act of loyalty to the law rather than to his boss’s personal interest.

So Tuberville’s campaign is based on the idea that he would be a better member of the Trump personality cult, and could do the Great Leader’s bidding without any of these pesky issues of conscience. Trump, meanwhile, is relishing Sessions’ distress.

This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt.

and let’s close with something that looks like a lot of work

There are places in China where people still do things the old-fashioned way. Here — reduced down to 11:20 — is how to grow some cotton and process it into a nice bedcover and some pillows.

Best Courses

As so often happens in these disasters, the best course always seemed the one for which it was now too late.

– Tacitus, The Histories circa 100 A.D.

This week’s featured posts are “The Coronavirus Genie Escapes Its Bottle“, “Does Anybody Know Who’s Electable?“, and “I’m Voting for Warren“.

This week everybody was talking about COVID-19

Everything I have to say about that is in one of the featured posts.

and the presidential race

Joe Biden got the win he needed in South Carolina. Super Tuesday is tomorrow, with Bernie Sanders expected to pick up the most delegates. Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer have dropped out. I explain why I’m voting for Elizabeth Warren in the Massachusetts primary.

BTW: Here’s something that should have been in my Warren article: Her name-that-billionaire interview with Steven Colbert.

I want to give some appreciation to Pete Buttigieg, who I have enjoyed listening to during this campaign. (I liked his book, too.) He and Warren have been far and away the most articulate of the candidates. I also want to give him credit for knowing just how far to go. His plan was on target until he got to Nevada and South Carolina, where it became clear that his efforts to reach out to voters of color were not going to work. Without them, there’s no way forward for him, so he dropped out. This should clarify the race for other candidates.

As I said in my electability article, I suspect Amy Klobuchar would run the best race against Trump if she could only get there, but I don’t see any way for her to get there. Her home state of Minnesota votes tomorrow, and I hope she has the sense to drop out afterwards.

but you should pay more attention to a court ruling

The DC Court of Appeals ruled against Congress in its suit to get Don McGahn to testify on Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller investigation. (I haven’t read the ruling yet; I hope to report on it in detail next week.) If this stands, Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch is more or less dead. The President gets to decide what evidence Congress can see or not see.

The 2-1 ruling was party-line. One of the judges claimed that Congress had plenty of other ways to negotiate with the President, but it’s hard for me to see any of them working. Yes, Congress could shut down the government until witnesses are brought forward. Or it could impeach the president again — though 34 senators would be enough to hold the line.

and you also might be interested in …

The Trump administration has negotiated an agreement with the Taliban to pull US troops out of Afghanistan. I’m skeptical about anything this administration does, but I’m inclined to wait and see on this one. I doubt it’s a good solution to the conflict, but there wasn’t going to be a good solution.

Turkey has started an offensive against the Assad regime’s forces in Syria. It’s not clear to what extent that will involve clashing with Russian forces supporting Assad. Turkey is a NATO country, though its relationship with the rest of NATO has been strained recently. But things get really dicey if Turks and Russians start fighting pitched battles.

The Justice Department has opened an office dedicated to denaturalization, i.e., undoing the process through which immigrants become U.S. citizens. Denaturalization was already a thing: If you committed fraud on your citizenship application and gave the government some other reason to want you gone (like recruiting for Al Qaeda), the Obama administration might take back your citizenship and deport you.

The worry here is that the Trump regime, which has already expanded the conditions for denaturalization, is planning to get much more aggressive, because it wants immigrants gone in general.

Over the past three years, denaturalization case referrals to the department have increased 600 percent. … Some Justice Department immigration lawyers have expressed worries that denaturalizations could be broadly used to strip citizenship, according to two lawyers who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

They cite the fact that the department can pursue denaturalization lawsuits against people who commit fraud, as it did against four people who lied about being related to become U.S. citizens. Fraud can be broadly defined, and include smaller infractions like misstatements on the citizenship application.

While we’re talking about immigrants who were naturalized under false pretenses, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Melania Trump.

Hidden Figures mathematician Katherine Johnson died at 101. She lived long and prospered.

and let’s close with some medical advice

At times like these, it’s important to know which doctors you should listen to. Here’s a chart that boils it down.

The Present Darkness

The dark days are not “coming”. The dark days are here.

– Rachel Maddow (2-21-2020)

This week’s featured posts are “What’s Wrong With a Decision-Making Convention?” and “Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy“.

This week everybody was talking about the Justice Department

I covered this in “Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy“.

and Bernie Sanders as front-runner

Sanders’ win in the Nevada caucuses was impressive. He was a clear winner among Latino voters, a demographic that wasn’t behind him in 2016. Sanders is now the clear front-runner, partly due to his own strength and partly due to the fracturing of his opposition. Even if you wanted to vote for the stop-Bernie candidate (and from my comment stream, I can tell that a lot of you don’t), who would that be?

Now that I’m a Massachusetts voter, I have to make my choice on March 3. I’m still undecided, but I promise to explain my thinking next week, the day before I vote.

Right now I’m wondering if I’ve given Bernie a fair shake. I’ve been rooting against him, and I’m not sure whether that’s for justifiable reasons, or whether it’s because I’m still annoyed from 2016. In 2016, I was part of his big majority in the New Hampshire primary, but I was voting more to send a message to Hillary than because I seriously intended to make Bernie president. As the campaign wore on, I came to regret that vote.

Unlike some people who voted for Hillary against Trump, I don’t fault Bernie for not campaigning harder for her in the fall. I think he did as much as could have been reasonably expected. But I thought a lot of his late-primary-campaign criticism of Hillary was unfair, that it continued well past the point where he had a chance to win, and that it set up Trump’s “crooked Hillary” rhetoric. It was irresponsible, and he should have known better.

That said, this is one of those situations where turnabout is not fair play. As Bernie becomes the front-runner, I think we all should bear in mind that he may well become the nominee. And while I’m all for every candidate’s and every voter’s right to criticize, I think we need to try very hard to criticize fairly. For example, I think it’s fine to say that Bernie should release his medical records, or to ask how his plans will be paid for, or how he will get them through Congress. But I don’t think it’s fair to call him a “communist” or to lie about what his healthcare plan will do. Trump will want to do that in the fall, if Bernie is nominated, and his rhetoric will sound more convincing if it can be prefaced with “Even Democrats say …”

On electability, I don’t know what to think. Polls consistently show Sanders running as well or better against Trump than the other Democrats do — worse than Biden in some polls, but never by much. At the same time, I have yet to meet a Republican who’s afraid of facing Bernie in the fall. Many of them are actively rooting for him, including (it seems) Trump. Maybe they’re just stupid, or maybe they have some insight.

and the continuing spread of the Chinese virus

It’s now known as COVID-19. Outbreaks are now happening in Italy and South Korea, which might imply that they will eventually happen everywhere.

Even so, try to maintain some perspective. Staying away from Chinese restaurants is not going to make you safer.

but you should pay more attention to Trump’s acting DNI

I also discussed this in “Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy“. Few things are could be worse than a Director of National Intelligence who tells the CIA what the President wants to hear them say, rather than tells the President what the best experts think is true.

and you also might be interested in …

As I write this morning, the stock market is plunging. The Dow is about 1300 points below the peak it hit a week or two ago. I don’t think the fall is Trump’s fault any more than the rise was, but if you live by the sword you die by the sword.

I don’t know how good her chances are, but I’ve got to root for Amy McGrath to beat Mitch McConnell. This online ad is from last summer, but it’s still worth looking at.

Remember the original justification for the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani? Supposedly it prevented one or more “imminent attacks“.

Well, never mind. The White House has sent Congress its official explanation for the raid, and the imminent-attack justification has vanished. Now the purpose of the assassination was to “deter future attacks”.

Without the threat of an imminent attack, there was no reason the administration couldn’t have consulted Congress, as envisioned in the War Powers Act. Instead, the report makes the argument that Congress intended the pre-Iraq-invasion Authorization for the Use of Military Force to include Iran, which is patently absurd.

In short, the Soleimani attack was an illegal assassination, and the President’s initial explanation of it was a lie.

Researchers at Scripps Oceanography Institute offer some good news on climate change: One of the tipping-point disaster scenarios is less likely than previously thought.

A long-feared scenario in which global warming causes Arctic permafrost to melt and release enough greenhouse gas to accelerate warming and cause catastrophe probably won’t happen.

and let’s close with something ambiguous

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who a satirist is satirizing. ABC News reported:

Pigeons wearing MAGA hats and Donald Trump wigs have been released by a shadowy protest group calling themselves P.U.T.I.N. – Pigeons United to Interfere Now — across the city of Las Vegas, Nevada

When I saw that, my first thought (after some concern about the pigeons) was “What a clever protest against Trump!” Plainly, the stunt casts MAGA-hatters as pigeons — stupid and gullible. When I heard the group was calling itself PUTIN, that cinched it.

But apparently not, at least if the Las Vegas Review-Journal has it right.

The pigeon release was done as an “aerial protest piece in response to the arrival of the 2020 Democratic debate,” the group said. Six Democratic presidential candidates will debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

“The release date was also coordinated to serve as a gesture of support and loyalty to President Trump,” said a group member who goes by the alias Coo Hand Luke.

Or maybe Coo Hand Luke is spoofing the local reporter, pretending to be precisely the kind pigeon-like Trumpist the birds represent. Or not. Maybe the satire is too subtle for any of us to grasp.


No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear February 24.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

– Abraham Lincoln
2nd Inaugural Address (3-4-1865)

As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President, have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.

– Donald Trump
at the National Prayer Breakfast (2-6-2020)

This week’s featured post is “Let’s Talk Each Other Down“. Think of it as a counterweight to all the depressing or panic-worthy stuff in this summary.

This week everybody was talking about Iowa and New Hampshire

OK, Iowa was a mess. But there’s a reliable paper trail, so there’s good reason to believe the result. Tomorrow is the New Hampshire primary, which I am amazed to discover I have not covered at all. I have not been to a single candidate event this year, despite living just over the border in Massachusetts.

To a large extent that’s because the main thing that matters to me is electing Not Trump. I have likes and opinions, but I’m all-in for whoever gets the nomination. Anyway, here’s one comment about each major contender:

  • Biden’s fourth-place finish in Iowa was a huge disappointment, and he doesn’t look to be running well in NH either. He’s counting on his black support to get him back in the race in South Carolina. I’ll bet Kamala Harris is kicking herself for getting out, because there is no obvious inheritor of Biden’s black support if he fails.
  • Bloomberg is running such an unorthodox campaign that it’s hard to know whether his strategy is working or not. But he gets Trump’s goat better than any other candidate, and that has to count for something.
  • Buttigieg was the biggest beneficiary of Iowa. Sanders won the popular vote, but Buttigieg was the big surprise and wound up with the most delegates. His NH polls shot up afterwards, largely, I think, because his Iowa performance gave people who already like him a reason to take his candidacy seriously. (Likeability is one of those nebulous concepts that is easy to abuse and hides a bunch of prejudices. But for what it’s worth, Pete is the candidate I feel the most affection for. That doesn’t necessarily mean I plan to vote for him, though.) It’s hard to tell whether this week’s debate blunted his momentum or not.
  • Klobuchar is the tortoise in this race. She also got on the map in Iowa, and is probably the second choice of a lot of Biden’s white supporters. She’s polling near zero in South Carolina, though, so she needs to do well in New Hampshire to stay in the race.
  • Sanders got more first-round votes than any other candidate in Iowa, but his case for beating Trump didn’t do so well. The theory of how Sanders wins in November is that (even though he may lose some voters in the center) he raises turnout by inspiring a lot of new voters to come to the polls. But turnout in Iowa was not much different from 2016, and much lower than 2008, when Obama really did inspire people. He needs a win in NH, but he also needs to win the right way, with a big turnout.
  • Warren is the president I would appoint, if the Universe would grant me that power. She’s got to be disappointed in her distant third-place finish in Iowa, and recent polls have her running third in NH as well. She was briefly the front-runner last fall, but it’s hard to see where her break-out state is.

Josh Marshall makes a prediction of how Trump will smear Bernie, should he become the front-runner. He also pre-debunks the smear.

and the final impeachment trial result

The biggest surprise of the Senate vote was that Trump’s acquittal wasn’t a party-line vote, and that the lone defector was a Republican, not a Democrat. After lots of speculation that Joe Manchin or some other red-state Democrat would find a way to excuse Trump, the Democrats held firm, and Mitt Romney found his conscience.

I’ve been a bit appalled at how uncharitable many of my social media friends have been, trying to see Romney’s choice as some kind of 2024 calculation. That seems really unlikely to me. Mitt is smart enough to realize that no matter how badly Trump blows up, nobody is going to get the 2024 Republican nomination by being anti-Trump. Assuming Trump even bothers to observe the term-limit rule — I mean, the Constitution is just a piece of paper — the next Republican nominee is either a Trump successor (Pence? Ivanka? Don Jr.?) or somebody who has stayed conveniently off the national stage (like Paul Ryan or a governor).

I think Mitt is at a point in his career where he sees History staring him in the face, and doesn’t want to be remembered as Trump’s accomplice. I’m amazed that more late-in-their-careers Republicans haven’t looked at things that way. Lamar Alexander, for example, has just guaranteed that none of the things he’s proud of will be remembered. The headline of his obituary will be that he shut down the witnesses to Trump’s crimes.

Mitt’s vote has provided contrast for the cowardice of the other Republican senators. We can hope other Republicans will be emboldened to take a stand as well.

and reprisals against those involved in Trump’s impeachment

The Washington Post put President Clinton’s and President Trump’s post-acquittal speeches side-by-side. They could not be more different. Clinton was short, contrite, and tried to put conflict behind him. (“I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it.”)

Trump, by contrast, was long-winded and dishonest, and took no responsibility for the acts that started this whole national trauma.

Trump repeatedly called Democrats involved in the impeachment “evil,” “corrupt” and “vicious and mean.” He railed against the Russian investigation, former FBI director James B. Comey, and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, adding, “It was all bullshit.”

He seemed poised for revenge, and soon began to take it. Donald Jr. made the threat explicit:

Allow me a moment to thank—and this may be a bit of a surprise—Adam Schiff. Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam!

After the show trial, the purge. Ambassador Gordon Sondland lost his job, as did Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman at the National Security Council. Somewhat stranger, Vindman’s brother Yevgeny was also fired from his job as an NSC lawyer. But that also fits the Stalinist pattern: Once you’ve been judged to be an Enemy of the People, your relatives are also suspect. That’s probably why Mitt Romney’s niece, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, has been so quick to declare her fealty to the regime.

Joshua Geltzer and Ryan Goodman comment on the Just Security blog:

Some have suggested that the outcry sparked by Friday’s reprisals was overblown. After all, any president is, on some level, entitled to surround himself at the White House and be represented overseas by those he trusts. But the question raised by Friday’s purge is: trusts to do what? And that’s where these actions raise serious concerns for American democracy: because Trump increasingly wants an executive branch that’ll serve not the United States of America but Donald J. Trump personally.

Trump was punishing key witnesses for doing precisely what the United States Congress swore them in to do: explain what they’d seen and heard.

… [E]xploitation of America’s diplomatic, military, and law enforcement mechanisms was the very usurpation of power that got Trump impeached in the first place. At the heart of the Ukraine extortion scheme was Trump and his personal lawyer’s appropriation of those mechanisms for political benefit and to the detriment of the country’s national security interests. Having survived impeachment, Trump now seeks to accelerate the redirection of America’s instruments of power into his own instruments of power.

Trump is not the only Republican engaged in post-impeachment reprisals. During the trial, Senator Rand Paul on numerous occasions named someone he claimed was the whistleblower whose complaint started the Ukraine investigation.

Friday, Tom Mueller (author of the book Crisis of Conscience about the history of whistleblowing) wrote a complaint to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, explaining how Senator Paul’s behavior violated the law.

Senator Paul’s actions constituted a retaliatory outing of a government witness—which is criminal conduct. Federal criminal law prohibits the obstruction of justice, and provides that “[w]hoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

Paul’s outing of the whistleblower occurred not just on the floor of the Senate (where it might be constitutionally protected) but also outside the Senate and on Twitter.

If Senator Paul goes unpunished, this will be the kind of weakening of the law typical of the descent towards fascism. In the late stages of fascism, criticism of the Leader is punished by the State directly. But in earlier stages, critics simply lose the protection of the laws and can be attacked by followers of the Leader without consequence. When the Brownshirts come to beat them up, the police watch and do nothing.

Speaking of brownshirts: Immediately after Romney’s guilty vote, CPAC chair Matt Schlapp disinvited him from the flagship conservative convention. Yesterday, Schlapp said “I would actually be afraid for his physical safety” if he showed up.

and the State of the Union

The State of the Union address was Tuesday. Trump stayed on script, but the script was full of lies and exaggerations.

At the end of the State of the Union address, Nancy Pelosi very decisively ripped up Trump’s speech. For some reason, this display of disrespect resounded across right-wing media, as if this were most uncivil thing to happen in months. I agree with Trae Crowder, a.k.a. the Liberal Redneck:

The level of disrespect she showed by, like, ripping up the president’s speech at the State of the Union like that — it’s nowhere near disrespectful enough. … This is the most disrespectful motherfucker on Planet Earth.

Medals of Freedom are essentially lifetime achievement awards that presidents give to people who make Americans proud. Usually that means other Americans, but sometimes a medal goes to a foreigner (Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking) who just makes us proud to be human.

Presidents have complete discretion to pick whoever they want, and for the most part they’ve done a good job. Over the years MoF awards have gone to authors like John Steinbeck and Harper Lee, artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Andrew Wyeth, musicians like Count Basie and Bob Dylan, and businessmen like Henry Ford II and IBM-founder Tom Watson. Computer-programming pioneer Grace Hopper got one, and so did photographer Ansel Adams. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel got one for being the conscience of the world.

In baseball’s Hall of Fame not everyone is Babe Ruth, and the same thing happens with Medals of Freedom. They’ve also gone to people who were famous and deserving of respect but not legendary, like actor Tom Hanks, Western-genre author Louis L’Amour, and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels. It happens. Presidents have their own idiosyncratic tastes. Some awards looked fine at the time, but shameful in retrospect, like President Bush giving one to Bill Cosby in 2002.

Well, Tuesday during the State of the Union address, President Trump awarded one to Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh has been a purveyor of hate and lies for more than 30 years. Who can forget his branding of Georgetown student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” for the unpardonable sin of defending ObamaCare’s contraception mandate?

So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.

Feel proud yet? How about when he accused Michael J. Fox of exaggerating the symptoms of his Parkinson’s Disease? Or when he made up a series of “facts” in order to falsely blame measles outbreaks on immigrant children? Or his addiction to prescription drugs, which resulted in a settlement with the State of Florida to get them to drop charges for doctor shopping?

Politifact has looked into 42 of Limbaugh’s controversial statements, and found zero of them to be entirely true. Thirty-five were rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire.

In short, if I were Sidney Poitier or Buzz Aldrin or some other living recipient of the Medal, I’d be looking at that award with considerably less pride than I did a week ago.

Not all of Trump’s awardees have cheapened the Medal. (I thought NBA legends Bob Cousy and Jerry West were worthy choices.) But a number of them look like deliberate attempts to debase the award: ethically challenged Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese; Arthur Laffer, creator of the discredited “Laffer Curve” theory that tax cuts increase revenue; and Miriam Adelson, wife of GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

This is some of the hidden damage Trump is doing to America. Even if we get rid of him in November, it will take a while to recover the value of things he has desecrated.

and you also might be interested in …

David Fahrenthold has found yet another way that Trump is profiteering off the presidency: He’s making the Secret Service stay at his properties, and then overcharging them.

President Trump’s company charges the Secret Service for the rooms agents use while protecting him at his luxury properties — billing U.S. taxpayers at rates as high as $650 per night, according to federal records and people who have seen receipts. …

“If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free — meaning, like, cost for housekeeping,” Trump’s son Eric said in a Yahoo Finance interview last year.

Are you surprised to learn that’s a lie? However, the really scandalous part of the story is the extent to which Trump has kept the public in the dark about his self-dealing.

The Secret Service is required to tell Congress twice a year about what it spends to protect Trump at his properties. But since 2016, it has only filed two of the required six reports, according to congressional offices. The reasons, according to Secret Service officials: key personnel left and nobody picked up the job. Even in those two reports, the lines for Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago were blank.

As I said above about Rand Paul, this is how fascism starts: Not with new laws, but with refusing to enforce the old laws.

A somewhat technical but worth-reading NYT article about Instex, a device Germany, France, and Britain set up to avoid US sanctions on countries and businesses that trade with Iran. It’s not working, but the lengths the US is going to in order to keep it from working is a lesson in how hard it is to be an independent US ally these days. Either you give up sovereignty and let Trump write your foreign policy, or the full economic fury of the United States will be unleashed on you. Sooner or later, our former allies will realize they need to work with China to balance our power.

China’s National Health Commission announced the 97 people died of coronavirus yesterday, more than any previous daily total. That brought the overall Chinese death toll to 908.

and let’s close with an inside joke

In order to understand this, you need to know the stories of my people.

Decadent Superfluities

The proper procedure, the gathering of evidence — these things mean nothing, not anymore. Not since Hitler. He cuts through these decadent superfluities and shows us that the conclusion is everything, Gunther. You of all people should understand this. The important thing in concluding a case successfully is actually concluding it.

– SS General Johann Rattenhuber,
as fictionalized in Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr

Will we pursue the search for truth, or will we dodge, weave, and evade?

— Senator Mitch McConnell,
discussing investigations of President Clinton, 2-12-1998

This week’s featured posts are “If Obama …” and “Jared’s Plan for Mideast Peace“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

Friday, the Senate voted not to hear any witnesses or subpoena any documents. The vote was 51-49, with Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and all 47 Democrats voting to hold a real trial. The other 51 Republicans voted to join Trump’s obstruction conspiracy.

it was predictable (I predicted it Tuesday on Facebook) that the number of Republican crossovers would be either two or many. If a third Republican voted to hear witnesses the motion would still have failed, but then all 50 Republicans voting against a real trial would be personally responsible. (“You, Cory Gardner, could have made the difference and let the American people hear what John Bolton had to say, but you joined the cover-up instead.”) If exactly four voted with the Democrats, each of them would be held personally responsible by Trump’s base. Nobody wanted that kind of responsibility, so it had to be two or many.

As it is, the only surprising thing was that the Senate didn’t go straight into an acquittal vote Friday by the dark of night. Instead, Senators will get the opportunity to make speeches explaining their positions before voting to acquit Trump on Wednesday.

I intend the quote at the top of the page as a comment on the Republican approach to this trial: The conclusion was fore-ordained, and nothing mattered other than getting there. Don’t think about the evidence, don’t try to find out what happened, don’t concern yourself with the good of the country — just get to the conclusion, because that’s all that counts. It’s fundamentally a fascist approach to justice, so I think the Nazi comparisons are appropriate.

Mitt Romney’s vote to call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial had immediate consequences: It got him explicitly uninvited from CPAC 2020, the flagship convention of what used to be the conservative movement. Not even his niece would defend him. If she did, maybe she’d become an Enemy of the People too.

Romney’s expulsion just underlines something that should be obvious anyway: Today’s “conservative” movement is no longer about conservative principles, or any principles at all. It’s a cult of personality centered on Donald Trump. Romney’s vote didn’t subvert conservatism in any way, but it did inconvenience the Great Orange Führer. So Mitt is excommunicated.

Alan Dershowitz’s opinion that Trump’s misdeeds are not impeachable represents a complete reversal of the opinion he held during the Clinton impeachment. But he explains the difference like this:

[Then] I simply accepted the academic consensus on an issue that was not on the front burner at the time. But because this impeachment directly raises the issue of whether criminal behavior is required, I have gone back and read all the relevant historical material as nonpartisan academics should always do and have now concluded that the framers did intend to limit the criteria for impeachment to criminal type acts akin to treason, bribery, and they certainly did not intend to extend it to vague and open-ended and non-criminal accusations such as abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Tuesday, Josh Marshall pulled no punches in his assessment:

To put it baldly, if it’s a topic and area of study you know nothing about and after a few weeks of cramming you decide that basically everyone who’s studied the question is wrong, there’s a very small chance you’ve rapidly come upon a great insight and a very great likelihood you’re an ignorant and self-regarding asshole.

Then, in the Q&A period Wednesday, Dershowitz went completely off the rails:

[I]f a hypothetical president of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, “unless you build a hotel with my name on it, and unless you give me a million dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds.” That’s an easy case. That’s purely corrupt and in the purely private interest.

But a complex middle case is, “I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was. If I’m not elected the national interest will suffer greatly.” That cannot be impeachable.

A lot of people misrepresented this doctrine as saying that the president can do anything to get elected, and it’s OK. Bad as it is, it doesn’t quite go that far. A better explanation is here.

and Jared’s Mideast “Peace” plan

I originally just wanted a quick note about this, but it got out of hand and became its own post.

and the Iowa caucus

It’s tonight, and I have no idea who will win. Bernie Sanders seems to have the late momentum, but the polling is really tight. The RCP polling average has Sanders at 24.2%, Biden 20.2%, Buttigieg 16.4%, Warren 15.6%, and Klobuchar 8.6%.

and Brexit finally happened

It became official in London Friday night at 11, which was midnight in Brussels. The United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union. There is still a lot to work out: an UK/EU trade agreement, trade arrangements with other countries that are used to dealing with the UK as part of the EU, whether Scotland will seek independence and rejoin the EU, and so forth. But at least the uncertainty is over and the adjustment can begin. I’m reminded of a quote from the South African author Alan Paton:

Sorrow is better than fear. Fear is a journey, a terrible journey, but sorrow is at least an arrival. When the storm threatens, a man is afraid for his house. But when the house is destroyed, there is something to do. About a storm he can do nothing, but he can rebuild a house.

and the Coronavirus is still spreading

The latest numbers say that 361 Chinese have died from the virus. That already makes it deadlier than the 2002 SARS outbreak, which killed 349 people in mainland China. There are more than 17,000 confirmed cases.

Large parts of the Chinese economy have shut down in response to the virus, and it’s anybody’s guess how big a hit the world economy will take. Lots of manufactured goods contain some part that is made in China and nowhere else, so it’s hard to say how far the ripple effects will go. And if your company sells products in China, your financial plan may take a hit.

you also might be interested in …

This week three news stories made Trump’s border wall look a little less “impenetrable” than advertised. Wednesday, a section of it blew down in a windstorm. (We knew that coyotes were helping migrants sneak across the border, but now it looks like the Big Bad Wolf has gotten involved as well.) Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the wall is vulnerable to flash floods, and so it will need flood gates that will have to be left open for months at a time. Also on Thursday, US officials announced the discovery of a tunnel under the border; it’s 70 feet underground and goes for nearly a mile.

Previous articles have noted how easy it is to saw through the wall or climb over it.

I’m not sure how I missed this Vox video “Why Obvious Lies Make Great Propaganda” when it came out in August, 2018. It examines the “Firehose of Falsehoods” propaganda technique, which was pioneered by Putin before it was adopted by Trump.

Unlike most propaganda, the lies in the firehose aren’t intended to be credible. The point is not to convince people that your lies are true, but to demonstrate that reality has no power to control what you say. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce everything to a struggle: There is no True or False, only Our Side vs. Their Side.

A justice of the peace in Waco has been refusing to perform same-sex marriages, despite being the only marriage-performing JP in town. When the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct gave her an official warning, she sued. She is seeking $100K in damages. The state attorney general is refusing to defend the Commission in court, claiming that this is a “religious liberty” issue.

Once again, “religious liberty” being used as a code-word for Christian special rights. Imagine, for comparison, that a devout Hindu health inspector refused to sign any permits to open restaurants that serve beef. It’s absurd to think the Texas AG would stand up for his non-Christian religious liberty. “Religious liberty” is for conservative Christians, not for anybody else.

My position: I think public officials should either do their jobs, implement reasonable workarounds that are invisible to the public they serve, or find new jobs. No citizen should ever go to a public office, only to be told that they can’t be served because some official’s “religious liberty” allows him or her to discriminate against that citizen.

The Trump administration rolled back Obama’s restriction on the use of land mines because … . I got nothing; it just looks like evil for the sake of evil.

Well, I don’t exactly have nothing, I have an attack of paranoia: What if this is a prelude to mining the southern border? I haven’t heard anybody in the administration threaten to do this, so my fear is based on nothing right now.

In spite of an $28 billion dollar federal bailout, farm bankruptcies were higher in 2019 than in any year since 2011.

Six more countries have been added to Trump’s travel ban, including Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

Every week I could do a bunch of Trump-is-stupid stories, but I don’t think they serve much purpose. Occasionally, though, one is actually funny.

So after the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl last night — in a great game, BTW — Trump tweeted congratulations for how well they “represented the Great State of Kansas”. (The tweet was later removed.) The problem: Kansas City straddles the Kansas/Missouri border, and the Chiefs play on the Missouri side.

Recalling Trump’s hurricane-threatening-Alabama fiasco, somebody on Facebook came up with a Sharpie solution.


and let’s close with something backwards (or not)

Weird Al’s song of palindromes: “Bob“.

What Matters

Right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.

Adam Schiff

This week’s featured post is “Can Bankers Become Allies Against Climate Change?

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment trial in the Senate


Tuesday was taken up with procedural votes that all went along party lines: Republicans rejected motions to call witnesses or subpoena documents prior to hearing the lawyers’ arguments. Another vote will be taken this week, and is expected to also hew close to party lines.

All through the week, Republican senators kept saying that they were hearing nothing new. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand responded:

To my Republican colleagues who’ve complained that there’s no new evidence in this impeachment trial: You voted more than ten times to block relevant witnesses and evidence. Don’t bury your head in the sand and then complain that it’s dark.

The House managers presented the case against Trump Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Adam Schiff was the lead voice, and he was brilliant. His 2 1/2 hour opening statement Wednesday pulled the various pieces of the argument together in a compelling way. His 48-minute closing statement Friday pre-buted the arguments Trump’s lawyers will make this week.

That no-new-evidence stance got a lot harder to justify yesterday, when leaks about John Bolton’s book appeared in the NYT. I can see why Trump doesn’t want him to testify.

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies.

We’ve also seen a cover letter showing that Bolton sent the White House a copy of his manuscript on December 30. So presumably Trump’s lawyers know what’s in it. That raises another question about whether they have intentionally lied during the Senate trial.

Will any of this make any difference to GOP senators? I’m starting to doubt it. More and more it looks like seemingly independent senators like Collins or Murkowski or Romney are still puppets of McConnell, who is a puppet of Trump (who is a puppet of Putin).

To the extent that it makes any sense at all, Trump’s defense is basically the same one a clever mob boss would use: He worked by implication rather than by making explicit deals. Trump’s phone call was “perfect” because he got his point across without telling Zelensky something like: “Here’s the deal: I deliver the aid you need to defend your country from Russia, and you announce that you’re investigating Joe Biden.” Instead, Trump segued from Zelensky’s mention of Javelin missiles to “I need you to do us a favor, though” and then talked about investigations. The quid pro quo was implicit, so it’s OK. (And in case Zelensky was dense, Trump representatives like Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker and Rudy Giuliani had previously explained the explicit quid pro quo to Zelensky’s people.)

It’s like when the mob boss says, “That’s such a lovely daughter you’ve got. I’m sure you worry a lot about the kinds of things that can happen to girls these days.” and then goes on to say what he wants the father to do for him. Because he never says, “I’m threatening you. Do what I say or your daughter gets hurt.” it’s a perfect conversation. At least in TrumpWorld.

Finally, somebody makes the obvious counter-argument to Trump defenders’ claim that impeachment is disenfranchising the voters who elected Trump. Frank Bruni:

If Republican leaders were really so invested in a government that didn’t diverge from voters’ desires, more of them would be questioning the Electoral College. Because of it, the country has a president, Trump, who received about three million fewer votes than his opponent.

Impeachment-and-removal is a constitutional process for getting rid of a corrupt president. Yes, it partially reverses the 2016 election. (It’s far from a complete reversal, because Mike Pence, not Hillary Clinton, becomes the next president.) And so it partially undoes the votes of the 63 million people who voted for Trump. But the Electoral College, another constitutional process, already completely undid the votes of 66 million Clinton voters. Trump’s people were fine with that disenfranchisement.

The strangest “defense” of Trump came from Lindsey Graham:

All I can tell you is from the president’s point of view, he did nothing wrong in his mind

That’s not a claim of innocence, it’s an insanity plea. I’m not exaggerating. One of the original statements of the insanity defense is known as the M’Naghten Rule:

to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.

Isn’t that more or less word-for-word what Graham is claiming?

More support for the insanity defense: Wednesday, Trump tweeted or retweeted 142 times, a new record. Consider what that means: If you were online for 14 hours and tweeted something every six minutes, you’d still only get to 140. I think the guy needs to get a real job.

A Trump tweet from Sunday morning: “Shifty Adam Schiff … has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!” A bit of translation is in order: In Trumpspeak, “our Country” means “me”.

So if you’re violent Trumpist like the El Paso shooter, you have your marching orders. The term for this is “stochastic terrorism“.

Last week I pointed out that the White House’s closing arguments had become more and more about intimidation. Thursday, CBS News tweeted:

A @POTUS confidant tells CBS News that GOP senators were warned: “vote against the president & your head will be on a pike.”

But what other argument do they have? It’s not like they can tell senators to do the right thing.

GOP senators are denying that the warning ever took place. I can imagine that the “@POTUS confidant” was speaking figuratively rather than relaying an exact quote.

Are there any bigger snowflakes than Republican senators? They were outraged that Jerry Nadler called their cover-up a cover-up. They were outraged when Adam Schiff referred to the CBS report about the “head on a pike” threat. (But so far they have expressed no outrage about Trump’s implicit threat of violence against Schiff.) It’s all distraction; they’d rather talk about their outrage than about what the president did, or how abjectly they’re bowing down to him.

More new evidence: A short video of a dinner in 2018 where Lev Parnas told Trump that he needed to get rid of Ambassador Yovanovich, and Trump said, “Get rid of her.” The importance of the video isn’t so much that Trump wanted Yovanovich out — presidents can have the ambassadors they want. (This is part of a 90-minute audio.)

The significance is twofold: First, Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know Parnas. This isn’t just a photo op, it’s a dinner conversation with a significant policy discussion. (Parnas’ attorney says he has other recordings of conversations with Trump.) Second, it’s not clear who Trump is telling to get rid of Yovanovich. If it’s Lev Parnas, that’s really weird, because Parnas is just a guy working with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.

and the new virus from China

Coronaviruses are common, and normally cause things like colds. But a new strain of coronavirus has appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where it has caused pneumonia symptoms in thousands of people, leading to 80 deaths so far. Comparisons are being made to the SARS virus, which killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003. Isolated cases of the new virus have been found in other countries, including five so far in the US. All five had traveled here from Wuhan, so thusfar there is no example of somebody catching the virus in the US.

China is taking this very seriously: Wuhan has been quarantined. At last count, the quarantine affected 50 million people, making it the largest quarantine in history.

One of the things I learned reading The Great Influenza (about the 1918-1920 Spanish flu epidemic) was that there is no libertarian answer to plague. Still, public health experts have considerable skepticism about the authoritarian approach China is taking. Somebody has to make public-health decisions and enforce them, but they only work if the public cooperates; that depends on a level of trust between leaders and citizens that is often lacking in authoritarian states.

and Mike Pompeo

Mike Pompeo’s interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, and her description of its aftermath, speaks volumes about this administration’s attitudes towards the press and the public. The interview is 9 1/2 minutes long, with an extra 1 1/2 minutes of Kelly describing what happened next. [Listen.]

The first topic is Iran. Pompeo repeats a number of common Trump administration lies about what Obama’s Iran nuclear deal did and how well Iran was complying with it. Kelly points out that since Trump pulled out of the deal, there are no longer any constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. She asks how the administration plans to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Pompeo stonewalls.

KELLY: My question again: How do you stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

POMPEO: We’ll stop them.

KELLY: How? Sanctions?

POMPEO: We’ll stop them. The President made it very clear. The opening sentence in his remarks said that we will never permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon. The coalition that we’ve built out, the economic, military, and diplomatic deterrence that we have put in place will deliver that outcome.

Then Kelly shifts to Ukraine, and in particular to whether Pompeo adequately stood up for Ambassador Yovanovich, who was targeted by Rudy Giuliani’s smear campaign, and then removed suddenly without explanation. Kelly is a tough but fair interviewer here, refusing to let Pompeo mischaracterize her question as based on “unnamed sources”, and referencing precisely the testimony she’s referring to. Pompeo again stonewalls (“I’ve done what’s right for every single person on this team” with no specifics.), and then abruptly cuts off the interview.

Kelly describes to he All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro what happened next:

You heard me thank the Secretary. He did not reply. He leaned in, glared at me, and then turned and with his aides left the room. Moments later, the same staffer who had stopped the interview re-appeared, asked me to come with her — just me, no recorder, though she did not say we were off the record, nor would I have agreed. I was taken to the Secretary’s private living room, where he was waiting, and he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” He used the F-word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes. He called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, “People will hear about this.” And then he turned and said he had things to do, and I thanked him again for his time and left.

So asking tough questions gets a reporter yelled and cursed at. I assume the beatings won’t start until the second term. (I’m being a little flip there, but not much. How out of character would it be?)

Afterwards, Pompeo claimed:

NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice. First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record.

At least one of those claims was a lie. In an email exchange with Pompeo’s press aide Katie Martin, Kelly refused to limit her questions to Iran, as the aide had suggested.

Kelly responded, “I am indeed just back from Tehran and plan to start there. Also Ukraine. And who knows what the news gods will serve up overnight. I never agree to take anything off the table.”

Martin replied, “Totally understand you want to ask other topics but just hoping . . . we can stick to that topic for a healthy portion of the interview .

Pompeo went on to imply, while leaving himself room to deny it later, that Kelly pointed to Bangladesh. In addition to probably being a lie as well, what’s with that test anyway? It’s obviously a planned thing, because how many people keep blank world maps handy? And incidentally, how many countries does he think Trump could find on a blank map?

Former Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor (who you may remember from his testimony in the impeachment hearings) answered Pompeo’s “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” by explaining why we should.

Russia is fighting a hybrid war against Ukraine, Europe and the United States. This war has many components: armed military aggression, energy supply, cyber attacks, disinformation and election interference. On each of these battlegrounds, Ukraine is the front line.

and you also might be interested in …

Retired basketball star Kobe Bryant, star of five championship-winning teams, died yesterday in a helicopter crash. He was 41.

Trump’s trip to Davos cost over $4 million, plus another couple million for Air Force One.

The number of US service members reporting concussions or traumatic brain injuries from the Iranian missile attack two weeks ago is now up to 34. Immediately after the attack, Trump announced: “no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.”

As we all know, the Great Leader can never be wrong. So he has stuck by that assessment, dismissing the injuries as “headaches”.

I’ve noted on several occasions that in the last several years American life expectancy has been negatively affected by so-called “deaths of despair“: premature deaths due to suicide, drug overdoses, or the long-term effects of substance abuse.

A new study claims that we can do something to mitigate that problem: raise the minimum wage.

Using data from all 50 American states and the District of Columbia from 1990 to 2015, the authors estimate that a $1 increase in the minimum wage is associated with a 3.5% decline in the suicide rate among adults aged 18 to 64 with a high-school education or less. This may sound small, but the numbers add up. The authors reckon that a $1 increase would have prevented 27,550 suicides in the 25 years covered by the study; a $2 increase would have prevented 57,000.

I have to make the standard correlation-is-not-causality disclaimer. Maybe it’s not the minimum wage per se that produces the effect. It’s possible that the connection is more roundabout. For example, maybe high-minimum-wage states are mostly blue states that have fewer guns. (Guns make suicide attempts much more effective, and so raise the suicide rate.) Or maybe they have better mental health services.

Even if you’re not into basketball, you might find this NYT sports-medicine article interesting. Zion Williamson is 19 years old, stands 6-6, weighs 284 pounds, and is an incredible leaper. When he jumps, he puts more pressure on the floor (and hence on his body, in a Newtonian equal-and-opposite reaction) than any athlete previously tested. In college last year, he once changed directions with so much force that his sneaker exploded.

Two things result from that jumping and cutting ability in a man his size: (1) He was the #1 choice in last spring’s NBA draft, is widely projected to be the next great pro basketball star, and (2) he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during the pre-season, so he only played his first NBA game this week.

The article centers on two questions: Is Williamson’s knee just doomed to break down under the unprecedented stress, or can he still have a long career if he strengthens supportive tissues and learns to jump and land with better stress-distributing technique? And more generally, does premature specialization — playing nothing but basketball from an early age, rather than the usual seasonal round of sports — lead to greater injury risk in adulthood?

Hardly anybody noticed when, just before Christmas, ICE changed its standards to allow harsher treatment of detained immigrants. This week, Texas Observer noticed:

ICE broadened the reasons a detainee can be placed in solitary confinement and removed language preventing officers from using “hog-tying, fetal restraints, [and] tight restraints.” The agency also extinguished requirements for new facilities to have outdoor recreation areas and provisions guaranteeing that nonprofit organizations have access to the detention centers. There were also significant revisions to protocols in the case of serious injury, illness, or death, such as allowing guards to notify ICE “as soon as practicable” (as opposed to immediately) that a detainee needs to be transferred to a hospital and removing any mention of how to proceed if a detainee dies during the transfer. …

The new guidelines apply to as many as 140 facilities across the United States, including as many as 18 in Texas. The standards primarily apply to local jails and prisons that have contracted with ICE to rent beds to hold immigrants alongside other inmates. … Under the new weaker standards, chances are that local jails and prisons will have an easier time passing inspections and keeping their lucrative contracts with ICE in place.

But the new standards may just codify bad behavior that ICE was allowing anyway.

Although ICE conducts annual inspections in most detention centers, even those that repeatedly violate the standards are given a pass. Among the most egregious examples is Alabama’s Etowah County Detention Center, deemed one of the worst in the country, where the sheriff personally pocketed $400,000 meant to buy food for detainees while roughly 300 of them were served barely edible food. Despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties called for ICE to stop detaining immigrants at Etowah, a contract remains in place.

This is the end result of the Trump administration’s dehumanizing rhetoric about immigrants. (He seldom mentions immigrants without talking about “invasions“, or about criminal gangs, who are “animals” that “infest” our country.) We tolerate inhumane treatment because we’ve stopped seeing the victims as fully human.

Good article in Grist about plant-based meat. It has a lot of potential, but so far it’s mostly a curiosity. In order to have a serious impact on the climate, production will have to scale up a lot. And the people in the best position to produce on that scale, ironically, are the established meat-processing companies.

Right now, the best results are in replacing burgers or chicken nuggets. Imitating steak is much harder.

and let’s close with something amusing

Some signs at airports tell us more than we want to know.