Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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


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

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan

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

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

This week everybody was talking about the White House coronavirus cluster

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

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

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

and right-wing terrorism in Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Trump’s collapsing support

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

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

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

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

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

and the off-again on-again stimulus deal

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

and the 25th Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the fly on Mike Pence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but don’t lose sight of Trump’s taxes

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something analytic

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

Pursuing Happiness

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about the looming Trump coup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and his (lack of) taxes

This week’s Trump exposé:

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

What do those records show?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romney released returns showing he paid

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

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

James Fallows:

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

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

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

and Amy Coney Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. J. Dionne notes the double standard:

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

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

Josh Marshall:

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

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

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

and the lack of Breonna Taylor charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the third wave of the virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NYT adds this:

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something cute

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

Evidence and Science

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

– “Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden

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

This week everybody was talking about Justice Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday at the age of 87.

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

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

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

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

and what comes next

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

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

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

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

and Trump undermining his own government

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

CDC chief Robert Redfield told a Senate hearing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Republicans turning on Trump (sort of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wired comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something rewarding

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

Blood, Sweat, and Miracles

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

– Winston Churchill

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

– Donald Trump

There is no featured post this week.

This week everybody was talking about the wildfires in the West

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

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

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

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

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

Grist explains the health hazzard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Woodward book

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

Here’s the most frequently quoted revelation:

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

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

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

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

Woodward assesses the damage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Bill Barr’s latest corruptions of the Justice Department

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

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

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

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

Marcy Wheeler:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something graphic

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

Summers and Winters

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

Martin Luther King

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

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

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

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

Joe Biden’s comment is also worth your attention:

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

and violence from the left and right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question and answer:

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

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

and let’s close with something childish

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

Unrequited Love of Country

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about the Kenosha and Portland shootings

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

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

James Fallows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fahrad Manjoo:

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

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

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

and the NBA-led general sports strike

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

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

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

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

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

The entire sports world was on strike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

and natural disasters related to climate change

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

and the virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Yglesias:

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Republican Convention

This got covered in the featured post.

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a good example of systemic racism:

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something distracting

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

Ending This American Darkness

Love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark. This is our moment. This is our mission. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation.

– Joe Biden, 8-20-2020

This week’s featured post is “The Underlying Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives“.

This week everybody was talking about the Democratic Convention.

The DNC ran Monday-to-Thursday. Unlike all previous conventions, it was virtual: No big ballroom full of people in funny hats or balloons dropping from the ceiling. To their credit, the organizers didn’t just put together a sad imitation of an in-person convention. Occasionally they took advantage of the new medium and did something creative, like the tour-of-America roll call. I suspect it was actually shorter than a traditional roll call, and much more fun.

The feel-good moment of the convention was when 13-year-old Brayden Harrington spoke about how Biden helped him with his stuttering problem, a disability Biden shares.

It is impossible to imagine Trump doing something like this. Trump never admits to any failing, and certainly doesn’t see himself in people with similar-but-worse problems. They’re nothing like him, because they’re losers and he’s a winner.

The center of every convention is the nominee’s acceptance speech. Biden is never going to be the orator Barack Obama is or Bill Clinton could be at his best, and the virtual-convention format is new and hard. (Trust me on this. I occasionally speak at churches. Talking to a congregation is much easier than talking to my computer and trusting that Zoom is putting my words out there.) But I thought he gave a powerful speech. It takes him a minute or two to get into it, but by the end it’s clear that the text represents what he really believes. (I recognize that too. When I start speaking, my head is full of good advice about where to look and what to do with my hands and which phrases I tripped over in rehearsal. But then the words hit me and I realize: “This is my speech. I want to tell people these things.”)

Here is the text and the video.

The visionary quote at the top comes from the speech’s conclusion, but Biden also laid out an agenda: First, deal with the virus.

As president, the first step I will take will be to get control of the virus that’s ruined so many lives. Because I understand something this president doesn’t. We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back to school, we will never have our lives back, until we deal with this virus. The tragedy of where we are today is it didn’t have to be this bad. Just look around. It’s not this bad in Canada. Or Europe. Or Japan. Or almost anywhere else in the world.

Then: create jobs by building infrastructure, and extend ObamaCare to provide healthcare to more people. Also: college you can access without “crushing” amounts of debt, immigration reform, labor unions, clean energy, protect Social Security, revise the tax code so that the super-rich and the big corporations pay their fair share, and embrace democratic nations and stand up to dictators, rather than the other way around.

But don’t write off the visionary stuff as meaningless, because I think that’s the message that will pull in the voters who can still be convinced: We’re really tired of having fear and hatred thrown at us every day. We don’t want a leader who endlessly focuses on resentments and grievances, and sees an enemy in anyone who doesn’t applaud his every move. We want a leader who will bring out the best in us, not the worst.

Biden’s “American darkness” contrasts with Trump’s “American carnage”. Carnage evokes anger and violence, while darkness is sad and regrettable. We don’t need to strike back at anybody, we just need some illumination.

The video where Biden answers a question about his faith was moving in its own right. And then Comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the emcee for Night 4, delivered this zinger: “Joe Biden goes to church so regularly that he doesn’t even need tear gas and a bunch of federalized troops to get there.”

An interesting tactical choice: Biden did not name Trump. He mentioned “the current president” (twice), “this president” (five times), “the current occupant of the office”, “the President” (twice), and “our current president”. It was like the old commercials where the advertised product is tested against Brand X.

Trump also made some interesting choices during the Democratic Convention. He went to Pennsylvania to do some White Birtherism, claiming that because Biden’s family left when Joe was “8, 9, or 10” (actually 13 — Trump can’t tell the truth about anything), he wasn’t really born in Scranton. (Coming from a medium-size city myself, I know that isn’t how it works. We were always looking for a way to claim famous people, not a way to reject them.)

Kamala’s speech (video, text) had to cover a lot of ground: telling us who she is, explaining how her positions are rooted in where she comes from, acknowledging the historic aspect of a woman of color being on the ticket, making the case against Donald Trump, and explaining why Joe Biden is the right response to the problems Trump has created.

I thought she did a good job, and I look forward to seeing her debate Mike Pence, if that actually happens. I sense something cat-like in Kamala. She seems calm and relaxed, but there’s a spring wound tight in there, and she could pounce at any moment. I wouldn’t want to debate her.

And here’s Trevor Noah’s take on the suggestion that Kamala isn’t “really black” or isn’t “black enough”.

and getting ready for the Republican Convention

One bizarre aspect of the two conventions is that the Democratic one arguably had a more impressive list of Republican participants than the Republican Convention will have: John Kasich, Susan Molinari, Christine Todd Whitman, Colin Powell, and Cindy McCain.

By contrast, the RNC will be all Trump. He plans to appear himself all four nights (though the schedule only lists him as a speaker on Thursday), with other major speaking slots reserved for Melania, all four Trump children, and Don Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. Ben Carson and Rand Paul are the only speakers who have run for president themselves. Living ex-President George W. Bush and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney will not appear. Neither will ex-Speakers Paul Ryan, John Boehner, or Newt Gingrich. Major Leader Mitch McConnell has no role.

It will be interesting to see how Trump answers the challenge this week. In his 2016 convention speech, he fearmongered about Muslim and Mexican immigrants. They were the primary threats to your safety, and he was going to stop them almost immediately. “Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.” The obvious sequel would be to fearmonger about Antifa and Black Lives Matter. (But what happened to safety being “restored”? How is it that we’re still threatened nearly four years later?)

If he does that, though, I think he’s playing into Biden’s hand. Biden offered a vision of an America where we aren’t all constantly afraid and angry. If Trump just doubles down on “American carnage”, he makes Biden’s vision that much more appealing.

In preparation for listening to Trump’s 2020 acceptance speech, let’s review my discussion of his 2016 convention speech. I led that off with two quotes, one from the 2015 Sift article “How Propaganda Works”

If your target audience has a flawed ideology, then your propaganda doesn’t have to lie to them. The lie, in some sense, has already been embedded and only needs to be activated.

and another from 2012’s “How Lies Work“:

You can’t be blamed for the false information, irrational prejudices, and ugly stereotypes that already sit inside people’s heads, waiting to be exploited. So good propaganda contains only enough false or repulsive information to leverage the ignorance and misinformation that’s already out there.

From those two, I drew this conclusion:

In other words, the central lie in an effective propaganda campaign is the one you never explicitly say. It’s out there already, sitting in the minds of your followers, so you just need to allude to it, suggest it, and bring it to consciousness in as many ways as you can. Your target audience will hear it, and afterwards most will believe you said it. But because you aren’t saying it in so many words, it’s immune to fact-checkers, and you barely need to defend it at all.

The Big Lie of Trump’s 2016 speech was one he never explicitly stated, but it was the constant background assumption: The main threat to your safety comes from Mexican and Muslim immigrants. That proposition was totally false and could not have been defended with facts. But it didn’t have to be, because he never specifically said it, leaving fact-checkers with no summing-up quote to grab hold of or object to.

So I advise you to look for that this week. Don’t just nitpick his speech with “This is false” and “That is false”. Listen for the Big Lie in the background, the one that goes without saying.

McSweeney’s gives its version of the RNC schedule. Tonight we can look forward to:

9:20 pm
Marjorie Taylor Greene, QAnon congressional candidate, explains why COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through the air because there is no such thing as “air.”

9:40 pm
Scott Baio triggers libs from his hot tub.

10:20 pm
Silicon Valley CEO Peter Thiel shares a PowerPoint about how minimum-wage workers can balance their budgets by scavenging for edible weeds and building traps to catch small rodents.

10:40 pm
Keynote speech: Axulythor, Sorcerer of Darkness, on the importance of restricting women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

OK, conventions have to be strange in this plague year. But one of the stranger moves was the RNC’s decision to keep its 2016 platform unchanged. And so it includes sections like this:

America has been led in the wrong direction. Our economy has become unnecessarily weak with stagnant wages. People living paycheck to paycheck are struggling, sacrificing, and suffering. Americans have earned and deserve a strong and healthy economy. Our standing in world affairs has declined significantly – our enemies no longer fear us and our friends no long[er] trust us. People want and expect an America that is the most powerful and respected country on the face of the earth. … The President appoints judges who legislate from the bench rather than apply the law.

The resolution adopted by the Republican National Committee is, well, weird.

WHEREAS, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda; RESOVLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;

In the era of Zoom and email, there is no reason a Platform Committee couldn’t put something together, even if they couldn’t get together in the same room. (And what does it say about opening schools, if the RNC Platform Committee thought meeting was too dangerous?) The 2016 platform was assembled when the party was out of power, and focused on running against the Obama administration. But now, four years later, the accomplishments of the Trump administration are apparently so insignificant that no item of the platform needs to be updated, and no sights need to be raised. Nothing at all needs to be said about problems unforeseen in 2016, like Covid-19 or the current economic crisis.

Instead, the RNC resolution makes the GOP precisely what its critics have claimed: a personality cult. The Party has no positions on issues, but it supports whatever Trump’s agenda is.

And then there’s the question about whether the law-and-order President’s convention activities are even legal. He intends to use the White House lawn for his own and Melania’s speeches, which mixes politics with government in a manner that is at best unethical. Although the convention remains technically in Charlotte, many of the speeches will happen in D. C., and many of them on federal property.

The unusual arrangement is already drawing ethical concerns that federal resources will be used for campaign events and that administration officials will violate the law by campaigning for the president on government property. And it’s not lost on Trump critics that the president’s flagship hotel, already a gathering spot for Republicans, will be conveniently located a short walk from the Mellon Auditorium.

“Picking a venue across the street from Trump’s D.C. hotel is no coincidence,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee with jurisdiction over Trump’s Washington hotel. “The Republican National Committee has privately paid Donald Trump throughout his presidency and it’s sadly no surprise that their largest event would continue that shameful practice.”

Mike Pompeo will address the convention even though he is on a government-sponsored trip to the MIddle East.

Matt Yglesias annotates a Federal Reserve chart of job growth to sum up the Trump economic narrative:

and the Senate Intelligence Committee Trump/Russia report

I got daunted by the 966 pages of the report, so I’ve barely looked at it myself. Here’s LawFare’s page of commentary.

One overarching note: There is a fair amount of overlap between this document and the Mueller report. But the Senate report covers a fair bit more ground for a few reasons. For one thing, it was not limited to information it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court, as Mueller was. Just as important, the committee included counterintelligence questions in its investigative remit—whereas Mueller limited himself to a review of criminal activity. So the document reads less like a prosecution memo and more like an investigative report addressing risk assessment questions.

The gist: Yes, there was a serious national-security threat for the FBI to look into. Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was in regular (and encrypted) communication with Konstantin Kilimnik, who the report identifies as a Russian intelligence officer. Lawfare’s summary:

In other words, throughout his work on the Trump campaign, Manafort maintained an ongoing business relationship with a Russian intelligence officer, to whom he passed nonpublic campaign material and analysis.

So what did Kilimnik do with the data—and why did Manafort share it? This was one of the great mysteries left unsolved by the Mueller report, and the Senate was also unable to come up with an answer.

… Perhaps the most tantalizing suggestion in this section involves the redacted pages following the committee’s assertion that “[s]ome evidence suggests Kilimnik may be connected to the GRU hack-and-leak operation related to the 2016 election”—that is, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

So a line can be drawn from the DNC and Podesta hacks to Kilimnik to Manafort to Trump. On the other side of the conspiracy, the Russians connect to WikiLeaks to Roger Stone to Trump.

The Senate report does not directly conclude that Trump was lying, but it gets pretty close. It draws this conclusion: “Despite Trump’s recollection, the Committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone’s access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions.”

The campaign didn’t just get advance warning about WikiLeaks intentions; they made requests.

After it became clear to Trump associates that the famous Access Hollywood tape would be coming out, Stone sought to time the much-sought-after release of Podesta emails by Wikileaks to divert attention from the tape. Corsi recalled that Stone “[w]anted the Podesta stuff to balance the news cycle” either “right then or at least coincident.”

And Stone got his wish: “At approximately 4:32 p.m. on October 7, approximately 32 minutes after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, WikiLeaks released 2,050 emails that the GRU had stolen from John Podesta, repeatedly announcing the leak on Twitter and linking to a searchable archive of the documents.”

You get the picture. All of the key figures in the Trump campaign—including Trump himself—knew about, and anticipated, the Podesta Wikileaks dump.

and Steve Bannon

Returning to the subject of conservative vulnerability to con-men that I raised two weeks ago: SDNY announced Thursday that former Trump “chief strategist” Steve Bannon had been indicted for fraud. He and three others were charged in connection with the crowdfunding campaign “We Build the Wall”, which supposedly was collecting money to build Trump’s border wall. (Text of indictment.)

In particular, to induce donors to donate to the campaign, [co-defendant Brian] KOLFAGE repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that “100% of the funds raised . . . will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose” because, as BANNON publicly stated, “we’re a volunteer organization.”

Those representations were false. In truth, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations. In particular, KOLFAGE covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000 in funds that donors had given to We Build the Wall, while BANNON, through a non-profit organization under his control (“Non-Profit-1”), received over $1 million from We Build the Wall, at least some of which BANNON used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in BANNON’s personal expenses. To conceal the payments to KOLFAGE from We Build the Wall, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA devised a scheme to route those payments from We Build the Wall to KOLFAGE indirectly through Non-Profit-1 and a shell company under SHEA’s control, among other avenues. They did so by using fake invoices and sham “vendor” arrangements, among other ways, to ensure, as KOLFAGE noted in a text message to BADOLATO, that his pay arrangement remained “confidential” and kept on a “need to know” basis.

Bannon, you might remember, became Trump’s campaign chairman after Paul Manafort left. Manfort was later convicted of multiple felonies.

SDNY is a traditionally independent US Attorney office that Bill Barr tried to take over a few months ago. He got the sitting US attorney to leave, but failed to install a crony. Instead, Geoffrey Berman was succeeded by his assistant Audrey Strauss, who announced the Bannon indictment. Whether a Barr crony would have swept this investigation under the rug is an interesting question. SDNY is also rumored to be working on an investigation of Rudy Giuliani.

Evan Hill tweets:

It gets better: Kolfage used boat he bought with illegally-siphoned “We Build the Wall” funds to sail in the July 4 Trump boat parade in Destin, Florida (spotted by @ZacAlf)

And there’s more, gleaned from the We Build the Wall web site.

Kris Kobach is the general counsel of the Build the Wall PAC that Steve Bannon was just arrested for being involved in as chairman. The advisory board includes Erik Prince, former CO congressman Tom Tancredo, Sheriff Dave Clarke and former pitcher Curt Schilling.

and you also might be interested in …

When the extra unemployment payments of the CARES Act ran out at the end of July, and Congress and the President couldn’t agree on a new stimulus package, it was widely predicted that many American households would be in trouble. Well, it’s happening.

In 2018 and 2019, Trump’s niece Mary taped conversations with her aunt, Donald’s sister, retired Judge Maryanne Barry. Mary says she was hoping to gather evidence to prove that Maryanne, Donald, and Robert misrepresented the size of their father (and Mary’s grandfather) Fred Trump’s estate, and so got Mary and her brother to agree to a settlement far lower than they would have sought if they had understood that the estate was worth closer to $1 billion than the $30 million they were told. [Lesson: Don’t cheat your relatives.]

The Washington Post article revealing these tapes doesn’t say whether Mary ever got the evidence she was looking for, but she did record her aunt saying a lot about the current president: “You can’t trust him”, “He has no principles. None.”, “The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit.”, and “It’s the phoniness of it all. It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel.”

After this story posted online Saturday night, the White House issued this statement from the president that said in full: “Every day it’s something else, who cares. I miss my brother, and I’ll continue to work hard for the American people. Not everyone agrees, but the results are obvious. Our country will soon be stronger than ever before!”

There’s a lot in that statement that I agree with: Almost every day there’s something else. Another major Trump associate indicted. A new Senate report outlining his collusion with the Russians. A new snake-oil coronavirus-cure scam. Putin poisoning a rival and Trump saying nothing. Day in, day out.

And who can deny that the results are obvious? 180,000 Americans dead of a virus that almost all other countries have controlled much better, with another thousand still dying every day. 16.3 million unemployed. An FY2020 budget deficit that will easily top $3 trillion. (That’s more than double the previous record: $1.4 trillion in the Bush-to-Obama transition year of FY 2009.)

But will our country soon be stronger than ever before? Probably not. The virus is far from beaten, and even if there is a vaccine by spring, it will take some time for the country to recover. But Trump is way behind in the polls, so there is a good chance America will be stronger than ever in a few years.

Cy Vance wins again in his bid to see Trump’s tax returns and other business-related documents. Here is Judge Victor Marrero’s 103-page ruling.

Originally, Trump’s lawyers argued the ridiculous claim that as long as he is president he is “absolutely immune” from any legal process, including grand jury investigations into his companies and associates. (They literally claimed that if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue “nothing could be done”.) Every court that looked at that claim rejected it, and no justice on the Supreme Court defended it. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the federal district court with the instructions that Trump could challenge the subpoena in the same way that anybody else would, without any blanket immunity from his office.

So Trump did put together a challenge on the grounds that the Manhattan grand jury’s subpoena was too broad was issued in bad faith. His lawyers supported that claim with a narrative rather than a set of facts: Because Democrats in the House were having trouble getting Trump’s documents, they got Cy Vance to subpoena the same documents under his investigation of the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal pay-offs, even though most of the documents have nothing to do with that investigation. Once Vance gets the documents, he will either give them to the House Democrats or leak them to the public. So the subpoena is too broad and issued in bad faith.

Again and again in his rejection of Trump’s challenge, Judge Marrero explained that you can’t just tell a story, you need to back it up with facts. We don’t actually know (and shouldn’t know at this stage) the full scope of the grand jury’s investigation. Grand juries deserve an assumption of good faith, unless there is serious evidence otherwise. And you can’t just assume that somebody in the grand jury or in Vance’s office will break the law and leak the documents.

the Court need not deem plausible the mere possibility of misconduct.

Marrero dismissed Trump’s challenge to the subpoena “with prejudice”, meaning that he will not consider another revision.

The Court also need not ignore that the President has now twice failed to present a valid cause for relief, despite guidance from the Supreme Court, which further counsels against allowing a third attempt at litigating the threshold validity of the Mazars subpoena.

This ruling now goes up the ladder again, to an appellate court. That process has already started, with this announcement Friday:

Trump’s personal attorneys asked the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to halt Marrero’s ruling from taking effect while they mount an appeal.

The circuit court on Friday afternoon agreed to hold a Sept. 1 hearing on the issue, but declined Trump’s request for an emergency stay. It’s unclear if Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. will attempt to enforce the subpoena in the interim, and his office did not respond to a request for comment.

The earliest day Vance could enforce the subpoena is next Friday.

Again, grand jury investigations are secret, so Vance getting the documents doesn’t necessarily mean we the people will ever see them.

In a somewhat clueless effort to attract women’s votes, Trump pardoned Susan B. Anthony on Tuesday. Anthony was convicted of illegally voting in the 1872 election. Since accepting a pardon requires admitting committing a crime, which Anthony never did, the Anthony Museum rejected the pardon on her behalf.

I wish my memory allowed me to attribute this quip to the proper source: It’s not the first time Trump did something to a woman without first seeking consent.

The Good Liars pranked Trump Jr. by changing his book’s dust jacket.

The Arkham Board of Health comments on the reopening plans of Miskatonic University.

Attorney General Barr met with media mogul Rupert Murdoch in October, 2019. That’s been widely reported before, and already it should raise suspicions. I mean, Barr has power over a lot of stuff Murdoch would care about. So what conversation could they possibly have that fits within ethics guidelines?

Now a new book tells us they had the worst possible kind of conversation: Barr told Murdoch that Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano had annoyed the President, and that Fox should “muzzle” him. They did.

Though Barr’s words to Murdoch “carried a lot of weight”, Stelter writes, “no one was explicitly told to take Napolitano off the air”. Instead, Stelter reports, Napolitano found digital resources allocated elsewhere, saw a slot on a daytime show disappear, and was not included in coverage of the impeachment process.

Eddie Glaude’s book Democracy in Black includes an anecdote about a family getting evicted by the police in the middle of the night. No warning, just breaking into the house to throw them out and pile their possessions in the street.

“When they came for me at three in the morning, they didn’t have a place for me and my family to go, but the animal shelter came because they knew that there were dogs there. They came with a place for my dog.”

Goodyear banned political attire at its plants, including both MAGA hats and Biden hats. Trump took offense and called for a boycott of the Ohio tire maker. So: first his bungling of the virus response causes Ohio State to cancel its football season, and now he’s going after one of the state’s major employers. A few weeks ago I didn’t expect Biden to carry Ohio, but now I wonder.

and let’s close with something to waste your time

The reddit subgroup r/disneyvacation (don’t ask me why) is a series of recaptioned images from WikiHow. Like this one:

How to describe 2020 to your future grandkids.

Or this:

How to forget your contacts and think you’ve spotted an old college buddy.

People are adding new ones constantly, so you can say “I’ll quit after the next one” more or less forever.

Ill Equipped

They need that money in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it. If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money, that means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.

Donald J. Trump

This week’s featured post is “What Makes Trump an Autocrat?

This week everybody was talking about Kamala Harris

“Well, we aren’t particularly excited about him, but rumor has it that he’ll have an exciting, female No. 2.”

Even before Kamala Harris left the presidential race, backers of other candidates were talking about her as a vice-presidential candidate. As a woman of color who is two decades younger and a forceful speaker, she fills a lot of holes for the Biden ticket. There has been a lot of speculation about other women, but Harris was the leader on almost every pundit’s list from wire to wire.

Conventional wisdom says that people don’t change their votes based on the VP, and in terms of conscious thinking that’s probably true. But the second name on the ticket modifies the first as an adjective modifies a noun. A candidate’s first major choice changes how we think about him or her. When Bill Clinton went for a second white male southerner in Al Gore, that said, “I really mean it.” Ronald Reagan picking George Bush said that he wanted to change the Republican Party, but not burn it down. Barack Obama choosing Joe Biden sent a similar message.

And so Biden-Harris is a subtly different candidate than Biden-Warren or Biden-Booker or Biden-Bloomberg. In addition to the obvious demographic messages, I read something else into the Harris choice: Biden doesn’t need to be a maverick. He’s the anti-John-McCain in that sense. If the obvious choice makes sense, he’ll go with it. In the current climate, where science is being sidelined in favor of miracle cures like hydroxychloroquine or oleandrin, that’s kind of comforting. I want a president who will take the standard public-health playbook and implement it, not one who needs to be original.

Like a cover band playing a medley of bigotry’s greatest hits, Republicans went after Harris with whatever racist or sexist attacks they had left over from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Unscrupulous presidents used to let hidden minions spread such dreck, but Trump came right out with this reprise of birtherism:

“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Harris. “I have no idea if that’s right,” he added. “I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”

That’s so Trump. He makes a charge even though he has “no idea if that’s right”, and then faults somebody else for not checking things out, as if the President of the United States bears no responsibility to know what he’s talking about before opening his mouth. Friday on CBS Jared Kushner used that as a dodge:

He just said that he had no idea whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t see that as promoting it. But look, at the end of the day, it’s something that’s out there.

I keep waiting for an interviewer to throw this standard back at Trump or his spokespeople: “You know, I heard it today that President Trump owes his presidency to Vladimir Putin, and so his first loyalty is to Putin rather than the United States. I have no idea if that’s right, and I’m not promoting it, but at the end of the day it’s something that’s out there.”

BTW: There’s nothing to the Harris-is-ineligible claim. She was born in Oakland, which makes her a natural-born citizen of the United States according to the 14th Amendment. Conservatives may not like the 14th Amendment, but it’s in the Constitution all the same.

The charge was given publicity by Newsweek, which is not the magazine you may remember from years ago, and hasn’t been since 2012. The Newsweek brand has changed hands many times since 2012; the current owners have held it since 2018, have nothing to do with the original Newsweek, and do not maintain the journalistic standards you may associate with that name.

One of the sillier attacks on Harris is that she’s “not really Black” or “Black, but not African American” or something-but-not-something-else because her parents came from India and Jamaica, and so her ancestors were never enslaved in America. (Snopes says the Jamaican branch of Harris’ family are “quite likely to be descendants of slaves”.  Barack Obama’s father was born in Africa, so his ancestors weren’t slaves at all.) This is one of the criticisms Trump is dog-whistling when he calls Harris “phony”.

Race is a lived experience, not a fact of your DNA. There’s a continuum of genetic variation from one local community to the next, and always has been. So at no point in history did humanity ever split neatly into some number of biological “races”. Race is a social reality, which means that your race is a matter of how you live and are treated, not some objective fact about you.

To me, then, (and as I read the NYT’s Jamelle Bouie) the key question is: Has Kamala Harris lived with the kinds of discrimination and prejudice that Black people face in America? If (as I can observe from the responses to her nomination) the answer is Yes, then I don’t really care where her parents were born.

Back in December, Devorah Blachor wrote a great satire piece for McSweeney’s “I Don’t Hate Women Candidates — I Just Hated Hillary and Coincidentally I’m Starting to Hate Elizabeth Warren“, and then followed up in March with “I Don’t Hate Women Candidates — I Just Hated Hillary and Now I Believe Elizabeth Warren is Responsible for the Collapse of the Republic“. Both called out the kind of man who denies being sexist in general, but somehow finds reasons to oppose any specific woman who has a chance to be elected. The reasons don’t have to be too good, they just have to be specific to this woman rather than expressions of prejudice against women in general.

I’d love to see a female President. Just not Hillary Clinton. Or Elizabeth Warren. I am totally open to all other women leaders, but I have to admit that Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are beginning to make me angry and I’m not sure why yet, but I know the reason will become clear soon, and I’m also wondering what they might look like if someone photoshopped their heads onto the bodies of prisoners and put them behind bars.

Well, she’s back with “I Don’t Hate Black or Woman Candidates, but Kamala Harris is Running for Vice President and My Head Just Exploded“.

If there’s one thing we can learn from Harris’s many accomplishments  —  as a district attorney, state attorney general, and a U.S. senator, she advocated for LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights, victim’s rights, helped defend Obamacare, worked for website data collection transparency, and consistently supported a progressive agenda —  it’s that she’s too ambitious.

What’s more, Kamala Harris is too left-wing and also too right-wing. She’s too Black, but she’s also not Black enough. She’s too angry, and I don’t like how she has money. She’s dated men and her campaign was flawed, and she’s an authoritarian, and something about Sean Hannity and a Twitter official?

and Trump’s open admission that he’s suppressing the vote

I focused on this more in the featured post, so here I’ll just look at the reactions Trump got. I don’t think he appreciates what a live wire he picked up. One striking thing about the attack on the Post Office is how visual the response has been.

Apparently this next image isn’t from the postal workers union (which says it would never use the USPS logo on a political message). But it does give the Post Office’s unofficial motto a needed update.

The attack includes removing mailboxes and mail-sorting machines. So from now forward, every late prescription or check or payment is going to be blamed on Trump. And they should be.

and the virus

The World-o-meter death total is up to 173,000. The US death rate has stopped increasing and has leveled off at about 1200 a day.

Trump introduced a new doctor at a coronavirus briefing a week ago: Scott Atlas.

A senior fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, Atlas is a neuroradiologist and not an expert on infectious diseases or pandemics. But he is a frequent contributor to Fox News where he has called on schools to open, endorsed the return of college football, raised questions about mask wearing and spoken out against lockdowns and the “frenzy” of mass testing — all stances Trump has taken.

“You know that there’s no real good science on general population widespread in all circumstances wearing masks,” Atlas told Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

I continue to shake my head at the short-sightedness of everything Trump does with respect to the virus. OK, you found a doctor who is either arrogant enough or unethical enough to speak authoritatively outside his area of expertise, and that doctor says the same stuff you say. But reality gets the last word. You may convince people to open schools or go to football games or whatever, but we will all see the results. It does you no good to convince people to do stupid things, if there is enough time before the election for the results of that stupidity to become apparent.

Even if you’re just trying to get re-elected, the best thing you can do is beat the virus, not convince people that you’ve been right all along.

and schools

I was surprised that The Wall Street Journal picked my hometown (Quincy, Illinois) as a place to center their back-to-school-debate piece. If you watch the video, you’ll see exterior shots of my high school and junior high.

Florida’s Governor DeSantis has a new analogy for opening schools: It’s like the Navy SEALs taking out Bin Laden. Don’t ask me to make sense of it. But if I were teaching in Florida, it would say to me that the governor expects me to risk my life.

Will college football happen at all this year? The Big Ten and Pac 12 have canceled their seasons. The ACC, Big 12, and SEC are still planning to go ahead, at least for now. To me, though, the important question isn’t “Who starts their season?” but “Who manages to finish a season?”. I predict no one will. A number of teams (Rutgers, LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma) already have had outbreaks.

To see just how irresponsible it is to play football this year, look at how Florida State is planning to do it: Claiming that they are following CDC guidelines that limit venues to 25% capacity, they plan to have 15K-20K fans at their home games. Naturally, we can expect well-behaved college students to use that extra space for social distancing, rather than gathering together for crowd-surfing and other unsafe activities.

I think this has huge political implications. I’ve already gotten this on a Trump email list: “The Radical Left is trying to CANCEL College Football. Can you believe it?

But I don’t think Trump is going to be able to shift the blame on this. The reason we can’t have college football is that he has screwed this up so badly. Biden should find some famous Ohio State graduate in the NFL and get him to do an ad where he says that Trump’s incompetent response to the virus is why we can’t have OSU football this year. “If we had a president who could do the job, Justin Fields would be on his way to a Heisman. It’s really that simple.” I think that argument locks up Ohio (where Biden already has a very narrow lead) and hence the Electoral College.

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This week’s entry in Apocalypse Bingo is an inland hurricane-force storm hitting Iowa. (Did your card have that?) What about a “firenado“?

Technically a “derecho“, a band of high-wind thunderstorms hit Iowa last Monday. With winds above 100 mph, the system would be Category 2 on the hurricane scale. Cedar Rapids reports losing “thousands” of trees, and about 1/3 of the state’s cropland was affected.

As of midday Friday, some 140,000 customers remained without power in Iowa, according to Another 60,000 were without power in Illinois.

One of the more striking things about this storm was that nationally, nobody noticed.

If somebody is telling you that voting for Biden will make no difference, show them this link: A federal appeals court just ruled 2-1 that California’s ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines is unconstitutional. This is one of several similar bans in states around the country. The opinion was written by a judge Trump appointed. If Clinton had won in 2016, the decision would have gone the other way.

High-capacity magazines allow mass shooters get to take down more people before they have to reload. Banning them is one of the few things states have managed to do in response to mass shootings.

Ever since the Jacksonville portion of the Republican Convention got canceled, Trump has been searching for the perfect place to give his acceptance speech. For a while he was considering the Gettysburg Battlefield, site of another famously disastrous Confederate overreach. Unfortunately, holding a partisan event on federal property is probably illegal.

The president is not subject to the Hatch Act, a Depression-era law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job. But everyone who works for him is. By delivering a speech with the Gettysburg battlefield as a backdrop, experts said, Mr. Trump would risk putting park rangers and other park employees at risk of a violation.

So instead, Trump plans to give the speech from the lawn of the White House, which is also a federal property. I’m sure he will not grasp the irony of delivering a law-and-order speech at an illegal venue.

In my opinion, the most appropriate spot would be Death Valley, the lowest point in the United States.

Trump on Mount Rushmore? Well maybe, if they do it right.

Reuters took some aerial photos of the Border Patrol’s camp for migrants near McAllen, Texas. Is this the kind of thing you want your country doing?

And speaking of immigrants:

and let’s close with something difficult

The Onion has been having a really hard time coming up with stories more ridiculous than what’s actually been happening, so I want to congratulate them on this one: “Federal Troops Tear-Gas Yankees Off Field So Trump Can Throw Out First Pitch“. The real backstory of this is that Trump announced he was throwing out the first pitch of the Yankees’ season, and then announced that he was cancelling. In fact, he had never been invited, but he was jealous of Dr. Fauci throwing out the first pitch for the Nationals. It had to be hard to top a news story that ridiculous, but The Onion was up to the job.

Behind Our Masks

Today I find the mask useful

along with sunglasses

to hide my tear streaked face,

not wanting to scare the barista

who has enough to deal with

behind his own mask.


– “Transitions” by Tammi Truax,
poet laureate of Portsmouth, NH

This week’s featured posts are “The NRA and the Long Con” and “Those Executive Orders“.

This week everybody was talking about executive orders

Saturday, Trump responded to the impasse in negotiations to extend provisions of the CARES Act by signing an executive order and three memoranda. He claimed they provide all sorts of relief to people economically stressed by the Covid-19 epidemic, especially the unemployed and those facing eviction. However, as one featured post points out, what the orders actually accomplish is much less than Trump claims, and yet they still threaten the constitutional order.

and the NRA

The other featured post discusses the legal problems of the National Rifle Association, which is threatened with dissolution by the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit. (The article uses that example to segue into a discussion of the conservative vulnerability to scams and con artists.) Basically, the NYAG claims that the NRA has become more about Wayne LaPierre’s luxurious lifestyle than about the Second Amendment, and that the corruption enabling this abuse is so pervasive and so top-to-bottom that no solution is possible that leaves the NRA intact.

The Washington Post satirist Alexandra Petri takes that first point and runs with it, suggesting a fund-raising letter for people who have never given to the NRA before.

We bet that what’s been holding you back all this time is the belief that if you donated to the NRA, it would help put more guns in more places and that such a goal, in your opinion, would make the United States a more dangerous place. Well, we urge you to take a second look and ask: Is that really what the NRA is doing?

A misconception that a lot of people have about the NRA is that we are some sort of gun lobby, trying to put guns into and keep them in the (cold, dead) hands of as many people as possible. But as allegations in a recent lawsuit demonstrate, the NRA is about so much more than that. We are also about subsidizing the personal travel of CEO Wayne LaPierre, his family members and a few trusted affiliates! We’re not just a gun lobby whose annual convention did not take place this year and which seems as though it hasn’t been very active around the coming election. We also believe in the power of travel, and the need to support America’s small-ship owners, or large-yacht owners, depending on your perspective.

An obvious question I didn’t get around to answering in the featured post  is why these are civil lawsuits rather than criminal indictments. The answer has to do with jurisdiction. In the Daily Beast, former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade (who appears fairly ofteny on Rachel Maddow’s show) wrote:

this easily could have been framed as a criminal case. Filing false registration and disclosure documents as part of a scheme to defraud can serve as the basis for federal mail or wire fraud, and often does in public corruption cases.

Her article strongly implies that criminal jurisdiction here belongs to Bill Barr’s Justice Department, which has no interest in prosecuting Trump’s friends. The NYAG is using a civil suit because that’s the tool at hand. However, the NYT quotes James:

It’s an ongoing investigation. If we uncover any criminal activity, we will refer it to the Manhattan district attorney. At this point in time we’re moving forward, again, with civil enforcement.

and the virus

Deaths seem to be peaking, which makes sense given that cases peaked 2-3 weeks ago. In the US, we’re up to about 165,000 dead, a number still rising at the rate of about 1,100 a day.

I worry that we are once again just seeing a transition. As the center of the virus moved from the Northeast to the South, there was an in-between period where the national numbers dropped. Now it is shifting again from the South to the Midwest, and staging a bit of a comeback in the Northeast. The national numbers may drop for a while now, but it remains to be seen if we’re really turning the corner as a nation.

Trump’s pro-mask conversion didn’t last very long.

An 8th-grade teacher from central Iowa lists nine ways that the current discussions about schools are off-base. If you picture real kids having the kinds of classroom experiences they’ll actually have if their schools reopen, the conversation changes.

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Another executive order this week bans “transactions” with Chinese companies ByteDance and WeChat, beginning in 45 days. ByteDance owns TikTok, a popular social media platform that I know literally nothing about. (I also own a small amount of stock in the Chinese company TenCent, which owns WeChat, another app I have never used.)

A good summary of the possible security threats posed by a Chinese social-media app that has been downloaded onto millions of American phones is at LawFare. (A sequel discussing the current executive orders is here.) As I read that post, the risks posed by TikTok and WeChat are more-or-less the same as the ones posed by Facebook or Twitter or any other social media app, compounded by the possibility that the Chinese government might get hold of the data it collects and use it for nefarious purposes.

I’m reminded of an old Travels With Farley comic strip where Farley talks to the strip’s military character, Major Mishap. Mishap explains that it’s his job to keep nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. And Farley asks, “Does that mean you think they’re in the right hands now?”

If the Chinese angle on TikTok gets everyone to take seriously what a nefarious actor could do with Google’s data trove (and why we’re so convinced that Google isn’t already that nefarious actor), that would be great. But I worry that this is just Trump acting out against a social-media universe populated by people who don’t like him, like Sarah Cooper.

If at the beginning of the year you’d asked me to list the threats to democracy, I don’t think I’d have come up with “a purge at the Post Office“.

Pulitzer-prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s new book Caste: the origins of our discontents has her out doing interviews. Here’s an amazing anecdote she recounted during her appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air, beginning around the 29 minute mark:

I had this experience in Chicago years ago when I was reporting a story that was fairly routine. I had made arrangements to interview all these people. I made the arrangements over the phone to interview a number of people for this story, and all the interviews had gone well, until I got to the last one. It was the last interview of the day. I was very much looking forward to it.

The person that I was speaking with, or going to speak with, had been very excited to talk with me over the phone. But when I got there, he happened not to have been there at the time, and the place where I went — it was a retail establishment — happened not to have other people in it, so I was waiting for him to get there. The door opens and this man comes in. He was vary harried, and he’s got this overcoat on. He’s very late for an appointment, ultimately, with me. But he’s harried, he’s frazzled, he’s anxious, and the clerk who had helped me earlier told me to go up to this man, that this was the man I was there to interview.

And I went up to him and he said, “Oh no, no, no, no. I can’t talk with you right now.” And I was flummoxed by that. I mean, we’re here for the interview, why are you saying you don’t have time to talk? And he said, “No, I can’t talk with you right now, I’m getting ready for a very, very important interview. I cannot talk with you right now.” And I said, “Well, I think I’m the person interviewing you. I’m Isabel Wilkerson with The New York Times.”

And he said, “Well, how would I know that? How do I know that you’re Isabel Wilkerson?”  And I said, “I am here. This is the time. It’s 4:30. You were here for the interview.” And he said, “Do you have a business card?” And I said, I actually happened not to have had any, because it was the end of the day and I’d been interviewing people all day and this was the last interview, which I was very much looking forward to. And I said, “I’m sorry, I’m out of business cards right now.” And he said, “Well, do you have something that … do you have some ID? Could I see some ID?”

And I said, “I shouldn’t have to show you ID. We’re already into the time where we were supposed to have the interview. We should be talking right now.” He said, “Well, I need to see some ID.” And so I pulled out my driver’s license to show it to him, and he said, “You don’t have anything with The New York Times on it?” And he said, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, because I have a very important interview coming. She’ll be here any minute. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

So I was actually accused of impersonating myself, because I was not perceived as being the person, I was not perceived as being someone who should have been in the position of a New York Times national correspondent there to interview him.

She’s goes on to explain that when something like that happens, you don’t tell your editors, for fear that they’ll lose faith in your ability to do the job. You just figure out some other way to get the story.

Recently released police body-cam video from Phoenix proves that cops kill white people too. An upstairs neighbor complained about noise from a video game Ryan Whitaker was playing with his girlfriend, and so the police showed up. AZ Central reports:

As they approach the apartment, no sounds of fighting or loud noises are heard coming from the unit.

Moments later, [Officer John] Ferragamo knocks on the door, identifying himself as Phoenix police. The officers stand to either side of the door, making it impossible for anyone looking out of the peephole to see who was there.

Whitaker opens the door, with the gun in hand and rapidly takes a couple of steps out of the apartment as Ferragamo flashes a light in his face. Ferragamo greets Whitaker and then repeatedly yells, “Hands,” according to the footage.

Whitaker is seen in the video starting to get on his knees, putting his left hand up and putting the gun behind his back when [Officer Jeff] Cooke fires into Whitaker’s back.

In the video, Whitaker appears to realize that these people are cops and start putting the gun down just before he was killed.

In addition to its influence on the national police-are-out-of-control discussion, this video also points out the problem created by the ubiquity of guns. Whitaker’s gun pushes Cook into a snap decision, which he makes badly. The number of guns in the US raises the possibility of deadly force in way too many situations, and limits people’s time to think.

After Trump pronounced Yosemite as “Yo Semite”, I joked on Facebook that soon Fox News would claim that was the actual pronunciation, and before long conservatives would all be saying “Yo Semite” just to prove they were on the right side. (The National Museum of American Jewish History is now selling “Yo Semite” t-shirts.)

Turns out it’s no joke. Two days later, Trump mispronounced Thailand as Thighland (and hilarity ensued). Conservative author (and Trump pardon recipient) Dinesh D’Souza tweeted in all seriousness:

This is actually the correct pronunciation. Most Americans say it wrong. Thailand is pronounced phonetically. It’s “Thighland,” not “Tai-land.”

When everyone laughed at him, D’Souza doubled down.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying “Thighland” is how it is said in the Thai language. The French say “Paree” but that’s not how it is pronounced in English. “Thighland,” not “Tai-land,” is how English speakers around the world say it.

That’s how it is in TrumpWorld. If the Great Leader says something out of step with reality, reality needs to change. He doesn’t speak Truth, he defines Truth. I can hardly wait for the Exalted One’s tour of Thighland to take him to Fuck It (Phuket).

Kathleen Parker’s “Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere. So schools must reopen.” isn’t wrong so much as it’s just clueless. Everyone want schools to be able to open safely, and businesses to be able to open safely, and voting to be safe, and on and on and on. The question is, “What do we do when it’s not safe?” Parker has no answers for that.

I wanted to have watched Trump’s Axios interview. I really did. But even the prospect of the interviewer pushing back couldn’t sustain me through Trump’s endless bullshit. I include the link for those of you with more endurance.

and let’s close with something electric

like Toto played on Tesla coils. That much electrical discharge is likely to bring the rains down in Africa.

Conquest and Ruin

The election was a necessity. We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.

Abraham Lincoln, 11-10-1864, two days after his re-election

This week’s featured post is “The Election: Worry or Don’t Worry?“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s threat to the election

At 8:30 Thursday morning, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its 2nd quarter GDP report, showing the economy contracting at a record pace. Sixteen minutes later, Trump tweeted:

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

Coincidence? Of course not. Again and again, Trump has shown that he would rather have us talking about some outrageous thing he said than about his failures in the real world.

And notice, of course, that Trump presents no plan for making things better. No plan for controlling the virus so that in-person voting will be safer, no safeguards to make mail-in voting more secure. No suggestion of when or how people could “properly, securely, and safely vote”. The tweet is just pure disruption: undermine faith in what is going to happen, without offering any viable alternative.

Republicans in Congress tried to stay clear of this authoritarian overreach, but for the most part they didn’t condemn it either. “I think delaying the election probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” Lindsey Graham said. And Mitch McConnell commented:

Never in the history of the Congress, through wars, depressions and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3.

To me, their message to Trump sounded more like “If you want to disrupt the election, leave me out of it” than “Don’t you dare.” I would have liked an elected Republican to react more like Federalist Society founder Steven Calabresi:

I am frankly appalled by the president’s recent tweet seeking to postpone the November election. Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate. … President Trump needs to be told by every Republican in Congress that he cannot postpone the federal election. Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional and without precedent in American history. Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again.

and the yuge GDP drop

OK, back to the GDP. The BEA report began:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020

That 32.9% number was all over the media coverage of the report, but it’s a crazy way to look at it. Nothing real fell by 32.9% in the 2nd quarter. NPR explains:

GDP swings are typically reported at an annual rate — as if they were to continue for a full year — which can be misleading in a volatile period like this. The overall economy in the second quarter was 9.5% smaller than during the same period a year ago.

To bring this idea home, imagine that you buy a $20,000 car today. So today you are spending at an annual rate of $7.3 million. But nothing in your box of receipts will ever add up to $7.3 million, because you’re not going to buy a $20,000 car every day for a year.

All the same, though, what really happened is bad enough: In the 2nd quarter the economy was 9.5% smaller than it was the year before. In the whole history of quarterly GDP reports, there has never been one this bad. What this proves is that we’re not having the “V-shaped recovery” that Trump has been predicting. People are still hurting, and jobs are hard to find. When Republicans in Congress went along with Democrats on the CARES Act in March, most of them were imagining that we’d be over the hump by now and well on our way back to normal.

Well, we’re not. And Republicans have no idea what to do about it.

The White House’s strategy in the negotiations has shifted multiple times in the past few weeks. Democrats passed a $3 trillion package in May that included an extension of unemployment benefits, new stimulus checks, aid for states and localities, and various other programs. The White House expressed opposition to that bill but did not begin negotiations with Democrats until recently. It also took the White House much longer than expected to broker a unified Republican proposal with the Senate GOP after blowback on several of the White House’s ideas.

One special crisis: The federal eviction ban has lapsed, and estimates say Americans owe $21.5 billion in back rent. “In July alone, 21% of renters paid no rent, according to research firm Apartment List.” Expect a wave of evictions, followed by an increase in homelessness. It’s got to be much harder to protect yourself against Covid-19 if you’re homeless, so this will directly affect the spread of the virus.

Trump and McConnell have been acting like they have all the time they want to figure this out. They don’t. Bad stuff is already happening, and more is going to happen every day they delay.

Renters are just the first domino. If they can’t pay, then landlords won’t be able to pay their mortgages. And then banks will be insolvent, and we’ll be in a credit crunch.

One odd wrinkle in the politics of this is that it’s not clear who McConnell speaks for. Lindsey Graham has claimed that “Half the Republicans are going to vote no on any Phase 4 package.” And Ron Johnson says: “I don’t want to see any new authorization of money.”

On the surface this looks weird, because the economic disaster these Republicans are courting is going to hurt Trump’s re-election campaign.

What’s going on here is that senators who aren’t running this year are looking down the road, and already assuming a Trump loss in the fall. After the George W. Bush administration ended in disaster, Republicans quickly disavowed Bush and claimed that he was never really a conservative. The Tea Party movement of 2009 took aim at all the Republicans who went along with Bush on the $700 billion TARP bail-out bill in October of 2008.

Senators like Johnson and Ben Sasse are foreseeing a similar rebranding trick after Trump is gone. And they sense that Republicans who vote for a new stimulus now will be vulnerable once Biden is president and deficits become anathema again.

Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute makes a good point about statistics: The bad 2nd-quarter numbers set the stage for 3rd-quarter numbers that will sound good, even if they’re not.

Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate that the June GDP is over five percentage points larger than the average in April, May, and June. So even if the economy does not grow at all in July, August and September, the third quarter is already set to outperform the second by a wide margin.

When a trillion dollars is going out the door, Trump just can’t resist wetting his beak a little. His proposed plan includes money to remodel the FBI building near the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The original plan had the FBI headquarters moving to cheaper quarters in the suburbs, but then the D.C. site might be available for some competing hotel. Trump really doesn’t want that to happen.

His plan also includes a bigger tax break for business restaurant spending — another boost for Trump properties.

and the virus

The death rate continues to rise. The current  7-day moving average is 1,226 deaths a day.

The news continues to be bad for anyone hoping schools will reopen safely.

Central Junior High in Greenfield, Indiana couldn’t get through its first day without an incident.

Just hours into the first day of classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student who had walked the halls and sat in various classrooms had tested positive for the coronavirus. Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days.

A New York Times analysis found that in many districts in the Sun Belt, at least 10 people infected with the coronavirus would be expected to arrive at a school of about 500 students and staff members during the first week if it reopened today.

A major outbreak happened at a Georgia YMCA camp.

A CDC report released Friday reveals that hundreds of campers at a north Georgia YMCA camp were infected with coronavirus in just days before the camp was shut down. … According to the report, of the 597 residents who attended the camp, 344 were tested and 260 tested positive for the virus. The camp was only open for four days before being shut down because of the virus, and officials followed all recommended safety protocols. …

The CDC said that what happened at High Harbor shows that earlier thinking that children might not be as susceptible to COVID-19 is wrong. According to the report, the age group with the most positive coronavirus tests was 6 – 10 years old.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain died Thursday of complications from Covid-19. For a brief time in the 2012 cycle, as the slice of the Republican Party that would eventually become the Trump personality cult struggled against Mitt Romney, Cain was the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

With the virus being so ubiquitous, it’s impossible to be confident in any contact-tracing. But Cain went to Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, where (like just about everybody else) he didn’t wear a mask. He tested positive on June 29. (I haven’t been able to determine whether that was when the test was given or the result reported.) He was hospitalized on July 1, and died July 30.

Trump began his July 30 briefing by blaming Cain’s death on “the China virus”. As usual, he takes no responsibility.

Here’s the ad Trump should run:


and John Lewis’ funeral

The funeral was held Thursday.

The presidential eulogies — delivered by every living president but one who is 95 and one who couldn’t be bothered to show up — were not to be missed: Barack Obama (text, video), Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush. Bush was never known for his eloquence, or for his camaraderie with the civil rights movement, but his speech embodied a basic decency that has not been seen in the White House since the current president arrived.

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The federal storm troopers left Portland, and the situation calmed down almost immediately. It’s almost like the feds never intended to preserve peace and order.

One of the demonstrators described the evolution of the protests like this:

We came out here in t-shirts and with hula-hoops and stuff, and they started gassing us. So we came back with respirators, and they started shooting us. So we came back with vests, and they started aiming for the head. So we started wearing helmets. And now they call us terrorists. Who’s escalating this? It’s not us.

The retail bankruptcies continue: Lord and Taylor, Men’s Wearhouse.

Fascinating tweet-storm in which an ER doctor talks about a surgery patient who was refusing a Covid-19 test, and so couldn’t be operated on. It’s a story of the kind of compassionate interaction we all wish we could receive or were capable of giving others. The doctor listened, reassured, provided factual context, and got the patient’s consent.

In a Fox News interview on July 19, Trump told Chris Wallace:

We’re signing a health-care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health-care plan.

Two weeks was up yesterday, and guess what? Nothing.

Trump usually expects nobody to be paying attention after two weeks, so “in two weeks” usually means “never”. (Remember the news conference where Melania was going to produce all her citizenship documentation, proving that “She came in totally legally.”? During the 2016 campaign he said that would happen “in a few weeks”. It still hasn’t.) But the Washington Post kept track this time, and published an article about all the other times Trump has promised a health-care plan.

In June 2019, Trump said in an interview with ABC News that he would announce a “phenomenal” new health-care plan “in about two months, maybe less.”

Two months later, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the president was preparing to introduce an elaborate plan to redesign the nation’s health-care system in a speech the following month. “We’re working every single day here,” Conway said last August. “I’ve already been in meetings this morning on the president’s health-care plan. It’s pretty impressive.”

No speech or plan came.

and let’s close with some great video-editing

Nike … well, they’re a big corporation, and they’ve got some problems. But credit where it’s due: If you want to make the case that people are people and sport is sport, you can’t do a lot better than this video. I wonder how much tape they had to watch to find images that fit together this well.